Illinois Hunt Down Salukis in Spirited Rivalry Game

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bruce weber demetri mccamey

After a football game that nearly defied all description, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber knew it was important for the Illini basketball team to get out fast.

“I did bring up the football game in the shootaround — you just never know and you gotta be ready to play,” Weber said.

“When you are winning you’ve got to keep pouring it on. One of the things we weren’t that good at last year was building and extending leads and putting teams away.  We had a saying this summer that you don’t ever take any prisoners, you don’t let up. And the way we’re playing right now we are doing just that.”

It was that relentless style that led the Illini to build a 31 point lead on the way to their 85-63 win over Southern Illinois Saturday night.

By Paul Schmidt

All in all, it was a successful effort for the Illini, who had a lot to be proud of offensively — sharing the ball, constant hustle and great transition basketball was the trademark of an Illinois offense that thrived in the open court. Demetri McCamey led the way with 18 points and nine assists, leading all scorers and was one of three Illini in double figures. D. J. Richardson chipped in 16 (4-of-5 from three point range) and Mike Davis had 14.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Illini though, as they do need to improve on the glass. An undersized Saluki front line helped keep that rebounding margin close (Illinois only out-rebounded Southern 34-32), and the Illini allowed a whopping 12 offensive boards.

“It was a really physical game, up and down the court,” Mike Davis said.

“We have to do  a better job of getting in position and boxing out, because there were times that they were able to move us around and get to the ball before us.”

Defensively, the Illini had six steals and six blocks, and forced 18 turnovers, but still, closing out on the perimeter seemed to be a problem. It was a bugaboo of the 2009-10 version of the Illini and, at times, it reared its ugly head again.

Though the Salukis ended up only 5 of 21 from long range, early in the game they found several open looks beyond the arc, with all but one of those threes coming early in the game.

Still, the victory was a good one for the Illini, and with the emotion surrounding the game — as well as the possibility of looking ahead to Texas and their games in New York — it was one that the team wanted to make certain it earned.

“You know, we weren’t looking past Southern, and we weren’t looking ahead,” Davis said. “These are going to be big games in New York. It’s on the national stage, on ESPN and it’s the first time that everyone has seen us.”mike davis illini

“We just want to go out there and play hard,” Davis concluded with a smile.

And while the team appears to be in good spirits and mentally ready for the test, their coach might be a little out of commission.

Weber was at the football game as a part of Dad’s Day at Illinois, and was on the sidelines with his daughter, an Illinois cheerleader.

And what was more fun, coaching, or leading 55,000 fans in cheers on a cold and blustery day?

“I’ll tell you when I get out of bed tomorrow,” Weber said with a laugh. “I don’t know, after having my daughter on my shoulders twice today during the game…and then I felt my neck crack twice. I might have hurt myself.”

Maybe we can run out a “Win one for the Weber” speech for Madison Square Garden.

Or, maybe not…

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