Illinois set a dubious record by recording only 14 rebounds in a 68-58 victory over Hawaii Monday night. Bruce Weber knows he has more work to do with his inside players.
"From the beginning of the year, one big question mark was our inside presence, the strength inside. During this stretch of games, the big guys have gotten worn down a little bit. We haven't been in the weight room, and we haven't practiced blockouts. At the beginning of the year, I was actually surprised by our rebounding. A lot of the games, we controlled the boards. It is a question mark."
The father of Director Of Basketball Operations Sean Harrington attended a practice recently. The former coach noticed the Illini players watching the flight of the ball on shots rather than looking for someone to block out on the boards.
"When you go back and watch it, some of it is just basic one-on-one blockout," Weber agrees. "We don't do a very good job of that. We'll address it a little bit before Chicago State with some drills, and it will definitely be emphasized over the course of the ten day exam period."
Speaking Tuesday after the Hawaii game, Weber had praise for Richard Semrau's post work.
"Richard Semrau's been a nice surprise. Last night, he gets a couple layups, some rebounds and fights in the post. He did some pretty positive things for us.
"He came back from a tough game against Georgia and had a pretty nice night. He still had just two rebounds. Richard's really like a freshman, to be honest. He worries alot, and he likes to please. He also has to learn to use his left hand inside and go up and not be afraid to get the shot blocked. Either dunk the thing or take it up strong. If he gets it blocked, he gets it blocked."
Semrau knows he has to keep improving, but he is gaining confidence as he gets more playing time.
"I'm very pleased with what I've done. It's basically the first season I've played here, so I'm happy with what I've accomplished and what the team has accomplished. I try to bring energy and enthusiasm and help my teammates. If we bring energy and enthusiasm every game, other teams will have trouble keeping up with us.
"I really worked on my strength over the summer. I worked on becoming more physical and aggressive, and I enjoy the contact now. I want to show the big guys I'm here to play and we're here to win."
Weber feels Dominique Keller has improved as he learns a new system and acclimates to major college ball.
"He's still got to make some progress. He needs to learn that every possession means something, and you've got to get after it every time. We need his strength. He can post up and do some things, but he's also got to rebound.
"He gets a tip dunk, but he gets 2 rebounds and no defensive rebounds. But he's made some progress. Dominique is a junior, but he's nine game into his Division 1 college career. He's slowly but surely figuring it out.
"I gave him more minutes when he fought in the post against Georgia. He got up to 14-15 minutes. We need him to rebound, and we need him to defend inside and have a physical presence, and just let the scoring come."
Mike Tisdale seems to be on a roller coaster, following good games with bad ones.
"Mike Tisdale had a nice game against Georgia and comes back and struggles a little bit," Weber said. "Yeah, I think it is (confidence). With Georgia, he makes his first shot. Tonight (Hawai'i Monday), he missed a couple and then he forced it.
"I told him it's not all about scoring points. Some days, you're not gonna get them. You don't have to create. We don't need a 7 foot guy dribbling and trying to make a play. If you don't get it, then go hard that day. Rebound, get a putback. It's all a part of the learning circle."
Perhaps the rebound discrepancy against Hawai'i was an aberation. After all, they crashed four players against the glass, including their 6'-7" shooting guard Roderick Flemings, who can leap over the top of most players. But the Illinois postmen must continue to elevate their games to compete against top teams.