Iowa-Illinois Preview

Not looking ahead. Taking it one game at a time. Focusing on the next opponent.

All those cliches apply for Iowa, which needs to take care of business at Illinois on Sunday ahead of a key Big Ten showdown.

The fifth-ranked Hawkeyes (18-4, 9-1) are in the softest part of their conference schedule, a seven-game stretch in which Thursday's road contest against No. 22 Indiana is their only one against a ranked opponent. Iowa has done what it's needed to thus far, posting double-digit victories over Northwestern and Penn State.

The Hawkeyes rolled past the Nittany Lions 73-49 on Wednesday.

''Right from the outset, our defense set the tone,'' coach Fran McCaffery said. ''We got stops, we got run-outs. I thought we really were locked into throwing it ahead and attacking in transition.''

Iowa, winner of 11 of 12, yielded season lows in points and shooting percentage (30.4) to improve to 10-0 when holding opponents to 40 percent or worse.

Despite its surge and recent success against Illinois – Iowa has won four of five meetings, including an 81-74 victory Feb. 1, 2014 to snap an 11-game losing streak in Champaign – McCaffery is expecting a struggling Illini squad to give the Hawkeyes their best shot.

“It's a tough place to play,” he said. “The last couple of times we've played them, they have been good, close, hard-fought games. We have to be ready.”

Jarrod Uthoff is averaging a team-high 18.4 points – third in the Big Ten – but scored 14 in 24 minutes against Penn State and had nine in a loss to then-No. 8 Maryland on Jan. 28. He's totaled 13 in three career games against Illinois, going 5 of 17 from the floor.

The Illini (11-12, 3-7) has lost three straight home games since upsetting then-No. 20 Purdue 84-70 on Jan. 10, but they return to Assembly Hall with some momentum after winning 110-101 in triple overtime at Rutgers on Wednesday. Malcolm Hill sank 10 free throws in the final five-minute period and finished with 32 points in Illinois' third OT game in the last four.

“It's fun after you win, it's depressing when you lose, so I mean, the first thing I did was lay down when we got back in the locker room,'' said Hill, who also had a career-high 14 rebounds in 49 minutes and is averaging a Big Ten-best 19.1 points. “This is a game you'll remember for a long time, you can tell your family and friends back home about it.”

Jalen Coleman-Lands added a career-best 26 as the Illini hit 30 of 34 foul shots. The win did no favors for their scoring defense, as Illinois ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten at 76.2 points per game. It allowed 75 in regulation.

Iowa is averaging 80.8 points, trailing only the Hoosiers in the conference. Senior point guard Mike Gesell is 10 points away from becoming the 45th player in school history to reach 1,000.