Illini Want Full House For Michigan Rematch

The Illinois basketball team gets an early payback opportunity as the Michigan Wolverines visit to the Assembly Hall Wednesday evening. Michigan pulled away for a 74-64 victory in Ann Arbor, and the Illini need to reverse that result if they want to keep their Big 10 Championship hopes alive.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was asked whether his team might have an advantage having played Michigan recently.

"I hope we have a mental edge since they beat us there. We're playing at home, but it's gonna be a difficult game. I think we're in a stretch here where we're gonna really find out what we're about. If we can compete for the Big 10 Championship or be in that upper echelon of teams, the next couple weeks we'll find out a lot."

Michigan uses unusual offensive and defensive philosophies, so the quick 10 day turnaround may help the Illini remember how to play them.

"There's no doubt it helps us. Instead of waiting 6 weeks or 2 months to play them again and get the thoughts back in their minds. I hope it helps. They know what beat them, how they beat us. It's fresh in their minds."

Illini forward Mike Davis agreed.

"Yeah, we know what we need to do this time. They do a lot of switching on defense and create mismatches, so we have to take advantage of those mismatches. We have a little chip on our shoulder, so we're gonna try to come out and win this game."

Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are the two Wolverine stars. The 6'-5" Harris will be Chester Frazier's primary responsibility, and Chester knows it will be a difficult assignment.

"Manny Harris is a great player. He's their heart and soul, along with DeShawn Sims. He wants to come at you every play and won't back down. I think I'm gonna be a little more physical with him next game, take a few things away from him. And try not to let him get out in transition, which could hurt us so much."

Sims is UM's tallest starter at 6'-8", but he is mobile and can shoot from long range. Illinois center Mike Tisdale struggled against him last game and must bring his best game this time for the Illini to win according to Weber.

"I hope Mike can do a better job on defense. Now it's a confidence thing. He was a little leery guarding Sims, and Sims hit a couple threes. He started hanging his head, you could tell by his body language. And then we put him on (Zach) Gibson late in the second half. Gibson gets the three, then he gets the drive, and Mike gets his head down.

"He's got to compete. He can't just give in, he's got to fight back. Even if it means getting a foul, do something. I hope he does a better job. It's not the best matchup, but we've also got to help him with our team defense. We need him to play confident because he is a good offensive weapon, especially against the zone. We need him in the game."

Weber says Michigan is improved from their first encounter. Their five starters can exert great pressure on any defense.

"(Laval) Lucas-Perry has really started to feel more comfortable. He's been a nice addition. Not only can he shoot the basketball, he gives them some quickness. And then I think (Kelvin) Grady seems to be a little more comfortable. He plays so hard and gets in passing lanes, pushes the ball in transition, and is another weapon. When you add that to Harris, Sims and (Zach) Novak, it makes it very difficult to guard.

"That's gonna be the challenge. We didn't do a very good job defending in either half. And then their changing defenses causes a little bit of a problem. The word I put on the board last time was "awareness." I didn't think we were very aware.

"On offense, you've got to be aware of the different defenses and read it. Read their different zones, read their switching man. On the defensive end they spread you out, they shoot the threes, and then they have his system and sets. It's a mixture of Northwestern and Princeton sets with some spacing and three point shooting. So we have to have great awareness on both ends."

Weber was baffled as to why, but the Illini appeared tired at Michigan, especially the second half. This played into the hands of Coach John Beilein's team.

"We can't be tired down the stretch, especially against them. They have so many weapons, and they make you accountable all the time. We have to get to the three point shooters.

"In the last game, they made all those threes in the first half. Then in the second half they have us all spread out worried about the three, and they start dribble driving and getting easy uncontested layups. Our weakside defense was just atrocious.

"We've got to do both. You've got to get to the shooters, you have to understand their system and have great awareness, and you've still got to contest them. Even though they shoot those threes, the more you get your hands up and contest them, the better chance you have. We're hoping we can both contest the threes and protect the lane."

The Wolverine defense is also difficult to attack without awareness.

"Part of it is they mix it. They only played 15 possessions of zone against us last time. We attacked it pretty well, and they went to the switching man-to-man. It's something you don't face every day.

"They switch how they guard it. They lock in on different shooters. They'll trap sometimes and not others. They make you play basketball. They make you pass and catch. If you can't pass and catch, if you don't have enough weapons, it's an effective defense."

Frazier believes the Illini loss in Ann Arbor was due to weak defense.

"We weren't aggressive enough on defense. We were too worried about being backdoored. We have to play our style and not let them change our defensive game plan."

Tisdale had a logical if intangible reason for the letdown.

"We kind of played sluggish up there. I think we were still high coming off the Purdue win, and practices up to the game were kind of sluggish. I don't think we were focused on the game. Hopefully, we'll be more focused this time."

One thing that might help Illinois focus on the task at hand is a boistrous home crowd. Trent Meacham likes the idea of a return match in the friendly confines of the Assembly Hall.

"It's better to have a rematch to a team you lost to. So we're excited. The last game, it was packed and it was great to see."

Davis knows his team needs a full house backing them.

"The crowd's been great the last couple games. We hope it will be filled up again so we can have a home court advantage."

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