Illini Seeking Something Positive

Illinois hasn't had a good season, but they are hoping for something positive if they can knock off the Gophers on Saturday.

Illinois has set or approached all sorts of negative team records during its trying 2007-08 season.

The Illini have tied the school record for losses (18) and set the mark for lowest Big Ten tournament seed (No. 10). They're on pace to be the program's worst free throw shooting team in nearly 60 years.

But there's still at least one positive streak the Illini can maintain.

If they can knock off Minnesota on Saturday at Assembly Hall, then it will serve as the program's ninth consecutive win on Senior Day.

Illinois will try to send out Shaun Pruitt, Brian Randle and beloved walk-on Chris Hicks the right way.

Based on the way Illinois stomped Minnesota 84-60 at Williams Arena on Feb. 12, there's a good chance for an oasis of joy in a season of misery.

The last time the teams met, the Illini shot a season-high 58.8 percent from the floor.

Junior guard Trent Meacham (19 points) drilled 5 of 5 3-pointers and freshman guard Demetri McCamey nearly pulled off the second triple-double in school annals with 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.

MICHIGAN STATE 59, ILLINOIS 51: Despite a ferocious start that found the hosts ahead 23-13 midway through the first half, the Illini wrapped up their perfect 0-for-8 record against ranked teams during the regular season Thursday.

After senior center Shaun Pruitt poured in nine of his team-high 13 points in the first 11 minutes — lifting Illinois to that 23-13 lead — Michigan State packed in its helping man-to-man defense and dared the Illini to shoot from long-range.

Illinois, as has been the trend all season, couldn't make it happen.

The Illini finished 2 of 15 on 3-pointers — tying their worst showing of the year — and converted just 9 of 19 free throws. Alas, that wasn't close to their worst free throw shooting of the year.

Freshman point guard Demetri McCamey suffered through a six-turnover night as he kept attacking the defense, getting himself caught in the air and trying tough passes that didn't work.

NOTES

  • If Illinois could call it quits at halftime, it could call itself an NCAA Tournament team. The Illini were 12-18, tying the school's record for losses, after losing to Michigan State on Wednesday, but they're far better at halftime.

    Illinois has led 20 of its 29 games at halftime and has been tied in three others. In Big Ten play, the Illini are 11-4-2 at halftime but 4-12 in the record book.

  • For most of the year, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has gone overboard on drills to try to get his players to shoot free throws better.

    Now that the Illini are among the nation's 10 worst free-throw shooting teams, Weber has decided to go the other way. They hardly practiced them at all during their bye week.

    So what happened when Illinois played Iowa on March 1? It shot free throws better than it had all year. The Illini clicked on 16 of 19 for a gaudy 84.2 percent success rate.

    Before the Iowa game, Illinois' best single-game performance was 73.2 percent against Purdue on Feb. 2.

  • Bruce Weber has elected to keep his veterans in the starting lineup, but he's trying to get his youngsters on the bench a larger percentage of the playing time. Freshman power forward Mike Davis, for example, played a career-high 22 minutes at

  • Senior forward Brian Randle, who dislocated his right shoulder Feb. 20 against Wisconsin, wasn't expected to play Thursday. But when Illinois coach Bruce Weber grew tired of junior Rodney Alexander's lackluster defense and unforced turnovers, he sent Randle into the fray with 17 minutes left.

    Randle, with his shoulder taped up, contributed seven points and one rebound in 10 minutes. He also increased the Illini's intensity when he hit the floor.

    If Randle's shoulder isn't significantly sore on Friday, he should be in the starting lineup when Illinois plays host to Minnesota Saturday on Senior Day.

  • Freshman point guard Demetri McCamey has been handed the ball and asked to mature in a hurry.

    Some days it works out for the best. Some days, such as Thursday's 59-51 loss to Michigan State, it doesn't.

    In 33 minutes, McCamey committed a game-high six turnovers that weren't offset by his three points, three rebounds and four assists.

  • Junior guard Trent Meacham has been bothered by bone chips in his ankle for several weeks, which has an effect on most aspects of his game.

    The team's No. 2 scorer produced five points, five rebounds and three assists against Michigan State, but he didn't quite have his normal lift and snap on his 3-pointers.

    Meacham missed all four of his 3-point tries, including three decent looks in the final four minutes when the Illini tried to get closer than 6 points.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Rodney Alexander, C Shaun Pruitt, G Chester Frazier, G Trent Meacham, G Demetri McCamey. Key Subs — F Calvin Brock, C Mike Tisdale, G Jeff Jordan, F Mike Davis.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a miracle. What can you say?" Illinois coach Bruce Weber after his team made 16 of 19 free throws in a 58-47 win at Iowa.

    GAME REVIEW:

    Wisconsin 71, Illinois 57

    Michigan 45, Illinois 43

    Illinois 58, Iowa 47

    Michigan State 59, Illinois 51

    GAME PREVIEW:

    Vs. Minnesota, Saturday, March 8

    Big Ten tournament first round, Thursday, March 13


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