NIU Huskies Invade AH For Tuesday Tilt

The Fighting Illini basketball team hopes to make it 2-0 on the young season as it hosts the Northern Illinois Huskies Tuesday evening at the Assemby Hall. NIU brings a high-scoring team that loves to run, so it should be an entertaining game. And the Huskies have the added incentive of playing their state school.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber liked the enthusiasm his team showed in its win over SIU-Edwardsville and wants to see it continue.

"It was a fun game. Obviously, it was a good start. There was a kind of energy from our players, there was a lot of energy in the building. It's exciting when you have guys play at a high level, and I thought we did that. The caliber of teams is gonna get better as we go along, but I still thought our kids played hard."

Weber was also pleased with the crowd support.

"The players noticed it. Last year during this stretch, there wasn't the excitement and energy. By the end of the season, we had the place packed and excited. The crowd definitely changed. During the exhibition games and the early part of the season, you don't always have quite the excitement.

"But the other night, there was a buzz from the start of the game, and I think our guys helped it and played well. And then they kept it going and played off the crowd. So it was positive, and I hope it continues Tuesday night. Student sales for Orange Krush is up. Student ticket sales are up. Anytime you get them in the building, it definitely helps."

NIU coach Ricardo Patton has Weber's respect.

"Coach Patton came from Colorado trying to re-energize the program. He does have a transfer in. This (Xavier) Silas kid made a nice impact for them after sitting out last year. I believe he had 30 in one of the exhibition games and 27-28 in the other. He can score some points. He did go with our group to China, and he had some nice numbers there. Our guys that went with him said he is an impressive player."

Unfortunately for NIU, it appears Silas broke a bone in his hand against Northwestern and may be out for awhile. That means Chicago guards Darion "Jake Anderson (6'-2", 203), the Huskies' leading scorer a year ago, and Mike Dinunno (5'-11", 192) will have to take up the scoring slack. Freshman Seton Academy product Tony Freeman (6'-4", 200) may be called on to replace Silas. Sean Kowal (6'-11", 246) is backed by Ante Dzepina (6'-8", 250) at center. Geneseo's Tyler Storm (6'-7", 217) starts at forward.

Weber described NIU's style of play.

"They have some guys that can score. They were very much up-tempo in the exhibition games, scoring 120 and 93, Friday night, Northwestern brings a totally different look and style, and they definitely limited their transition. It's tough to go against their style of play even if you know it, let alone when you don't know it. Early in the season makes it even more difficult.

"I think it will be a game that will be up and down. We like to push it, and they like to push it. We've just got to make sure we get back and defend. It will be a good test for our guards, to see if we can deal with their guys."

What is Weber's major concern?

"Their guards can score, and we're gonna have to deal with that. We have some young guys, and I'm still worried about our defense. I thought we played pretty solid the other day, but do we have a defensive stopper if someone gets on a run and starts hitting tough shots? Can we shut the guy down and limit his looks?

"We're gonna have to deal with their transition. They also play a variety of defenses. We've seen some straight man, we've seen some zone, some pressing from them. And they have some athleticism and size inside. So it gives you a lot of different looks. But I'd say the main thing is their perimeter play and how they can score."

Illini freshman D.J. Richardson is important for both his defense and offense. How is he progressing from his hyperextended elbow?

"He practiced yesterday. He was a little sore. Probably in high school he would have sat out. Obviously, we have much better medical care and support. The therapy and care helps. Al (Martindale) puts a lot of time in, our team doctors too. They helped him along a little faster than probably would have happened normally.

"He's a little tentative as a freshman to play with pain and fight through it. It hurts to bend his elbow, and you have to bend your elbow to shoot. It'll probably take a week to ten days to get back where it's completely healthy."

Weber likes how the Illini have begun the season, and it had to be encouraging to see two freshmen leading the scoring in the SIU-E game. But he needs contributions from everyone to have a successful season.

"Our freshmen have had some shining moments early. But at the same time, I think it's so important our upperclassmen are consistent. I think the best thing about our team is our depth, our versatility. The whole theme of our staff is it's one step up a high staircase. There's a long way to go and a lot to get done. We've just got to keep improving starting every day in practice and then Tuesday night against Northern."


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