Nittany Lions Roar Into Champaign

Bruce Weber and Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis have been friends for many years. They root for each other most of the time, but the friendship ends when they play each other on the court. So for two hours Wednesday evening at the Assembly Hall, Illinois and Penn State will be rivals fighting for NCAA bids in the rugged Big 10 Conference.

Coming off two important road wins, Illinois cannot take the home court for granted if it wishes to pursue a Big 10 Championship. The Illini face perhaps the most difficult portion of their conference schedule these last five games. Penn State's Nittany Lions are fighting and clawing for an NCAA tournament bid. Weber knows they will be difficult to conquer.

"Right now, we have to worry about a Penn State team that has played very good basketball. Eddie's done a great job with these guys. The big three are (Talor) Battle , (Jamelle) Cornley and (Stanley) Pringle. They are three of the better offensive players in the league.

"Battle's quickness getting in transition, his penetration, is very tough to deal with. Even with Chester (Frazier) on him, he's so quick. They run him off screens, he gets in transition. He can score in a lot of different ways.

"His performance at Michigan State, when they won that big road game, was special. He had a little bit of a lull, but then he got it going again the second half against Minnesota last Saturday. He's gonna score some points, we've just got to keep him under his average."

The 5'-11", 160 pound Battle leads the Nittany Lions with a 17.6 point average, but Cornley (6'-5", 240) and the speedy Pringle (6'-1", 180) aren't far behind at 14.9 and 13.2 respectively.

"Cornley is a tough matchup," Weber reminds. "We've had trouble with him the last couple years. He's really probably only 6'-4", 6'-5". He's wide, he's one of the strongest guys in the league. He can go inside, and he has really improved his outside game. He'll kind of pick and choose depending on what kind of matchup he has.

"Pringle has played pretty well. They seem to have a drop after that, but you can't let the other guys have big games. Their other guys had big games here last year, and that was the difference in them beating us here.

PSU has not only upgraded its talent level, it has also upgraded team attitude according to Weber.

"The biggest thing Coach DeChellis has talked about is that he has some guys that love to play now. It makes coaching fun. Those guys don't like to lose. You would hope every kid is like that, but I'm not sure they all are like that.

"Battle brings that love of winning and hatred of losing, as well as Cornley. Those two guys give them that speed and strength, but also they give that competitiveness you need to be successful."

Weber knows the big three will score. But the key is keeping them from going crazy.

"I think the big key with all three of those guys, keep them under their average, which is easier said than done. And then keep some other guy from having a career day or a career rebound day. Last year, they had three or four guys that had career scoring days, career rebounding days. That was the difference maker."

Those other guys include starters Andrew Jones (6'-9", 245) and Jeff Brooks (6'-8", 200). Top reserves include Chris Babb (6'-5", 210), David Jackson (6'-6", 205), Cammeron Woodyard (6'-5", 205), Danny Morrissey (6'-3", 190) and Andrew Ott (6'-10", 235). Jackson started early in the year, and Morrissey has been a thorn in Illinois' side his entire career.

Nittany Lion players have a great deal of freedom offensively. Their guards will put the ball up from anywhere on the court.

"They put up some bombs, there's no doubt. You have to pick them up earlier, from Battle to Pringle to Morrissey. All those guys will shoot long-range three pointers. Even a ball screen five feet beyond the arc, you're gonna have to get a hand up because they will jump up and shoot it. Once they get going, it will be tough to slow them down."

They rebound well also.

"And then added onto that, they have been a pretty good rebounding team. You get those long shots, long rebounds. They just dominated us on the rebounding last year here. We did a little better at their place."

While there is much talk of their offense, PSU also throws a mixture of defenses at opponents.

"When Ed first got back in the league, he depended on a lot of zone from a 3-2 to a 2-3 to a 1-3-1. I think he felt he had some guys this year that could guard a little better. So he's concentrated on his man defense. As of late, though, they've gone a little more zone.

"They will mix it. On both the Purdue and Michigan State games on the road, they started with a zone. We'll probably see all of those, and I'm not sure which one he'll start with."

Cornley specializes in throwing his weight around near the basket. There is concern splendid splinters Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale will be overmatched physically. Weber hopes the Illini have learned their lessons on positioning for rebounds.

"You've just got to box him out. The thing is, he'll post you up. You're fighting him in the post, and now he's got inside position on you. You hope he's kind of floating around on the perimeter. But if you look, Andrew Jones has more offensive rebounds in the league than he does.

"When you post trap Cornley, then Andrew Jones is floating or Ott is floating. Now, we've got to have rotation boxout. That's gonna be real important. They're a good rebounding team, especially on the offensive end."

Senior guard Trent Meacham knows the Illini are in for a tough matchup.

"They've played real well against us the last few years. They took a Big 10 Championship away from us when Dee (Brown) and James (Augustine) were here. They're a good team, and they play with a lot of confidence. Some of those guys really have the green light, and they can be very dangerous on any night."

And senior Chester Frazier, who will most likely draw the defensive assignment on team leader Battle, also knows what to expect.

"Battle is tops in scoring and tops in assists. He's very tough. He makes a lot of tough shots. He can get up and down the floor, as well as Pringle. And it's gonna be tough to guard Cornley inside.

"Guys like that are tough to guard because they have so much freedom. Like playing a playground game. A guy gets hot, he can get you for 30 points. You've just got to guard them and limit their touches."

Bruce Weber cannot afford to let his friendship with Ed DeChellis interfere with the task at hand.

"They've beaten us twice in a row at home over a three year period. They're fighting for their lives in the Big Ten race and to get an NCAA bid. I like Eddie and wish him the best, but right now we've got to worry about ourself in trying to get a victory Wednesday night."

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