NCAA BK

Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 10:00 PM ET
Game Preview
 

Illinois-Gonzaga Preview

Share This Story

   
 

Though Gonzaga has historically struggled against Illinois, first-year Fighting Illini coach John Groce knows his team must be at its best if that success is to continue.

Making their first trip to Spokane, the No. 13 Illini face a major challenge Saturday night while trying for a third consecutive victory over the 10th-ranked Bulldogs in a matchup of 9-0 teams.

Illinois has been an early surprise, winning the Maui Invitational and rebounding from last season when it started 10-0 but lost 12 of the final 14 to miss the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years. While that ugly finish cost coach Bruce Weber his job, the Illini have transitioned nicely under Groce.

They have solid victories over Southern California, Butler and Georgia Tech, but this will be their first game against a ranked opponent. The Illini have won four of five against Gonzaga but only one of those contests was played in Washington - a 73-61 Illinois win Dec. 4, 2010, in Seattle. The Bulldogs won 85-83 in overtime in Chicago on Jan. 2, 2010.

Groce, however, knows his team faces a difficult task at the raucous McCarthey Center, where Gonzaga has reeled off 17 consecutive victories. Five have come this year, as the Bulldogs are off to the best start in their Division I history.

"I've been told (Gonzaga coach Mark Few) thinks it's his best team,'' said Groce, whose team won 78-77 in overtime at Hawaii in its only true road game. "That's a great environment. It's an exciting challenge, a national TV game against a top 10 team.''

If Illinois is to have a chance it must play better than it did during Tuesday's 72-64 victory over Western Carolina. The Illini shot 40.0 percent and were tied at 53 with just under 6 minutes to play before pulling away. The Catamounts remained competitive by shooting 6 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half.

"We always play half a game and have spurts where we play good and spurts where we play bad," said senior D.J. Richardson, who had 13 points. "We have to be tough."

The Illini likely can't afford a lack of toughness against the Bulldogs, who rank among the national leaders in rebounding at 41.1 per game and give up an average of 58.8 points. Illinois is 10th in the Big Ten pulling down 36.2 boards.

Gonzaga big men Elias Harris (16.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game) and Kelly Olynyk (13.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) combined for 45 points in Wednesday's 71-69 win at Washington State.

"We gave game balls to both of these guys,'' Few said. "These two players down the stretch were big for us.''

While Illinois has a talented backcourt trio of Brandon Paul (17.8 ppg), Tracy Abrams (11.3) and Richardson (12.3), Gonzaga guards Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos came up big Wednesday. Bell scored 14 while Pangos endured a 2-for-12 shooting night but made the winning layup with 2 seconds left.

"Gonzaga is very good,'' Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "There is a reason they are the No. 10 team in the country.''

Averaging 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in three games versus Illinois, Harris scored 19 in last season's 82-75 loss in Champaign. Richardson has totaled 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting in the last two versus Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs have dropped four straight home games against ranked, non-conference opponents dating to a 97-77 win over No. 13 Washington on Dec. 9, 2006.

Tagged: Washington, Illinois, Gonzaga, D.J. Richardson

Related Stories

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



NCAA BK Videos

Georgetown, Syracuse to renew CBK rivalry Posted: Jun 10, 2014
Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III on the renewal of the rivalry betw...

Cuonzo Martin new head coach at Cal Posted: Apr 16, 2014
Cuonzo Martin is introduced as Cal's new head coach.

UConn tops Notre Dame in women's final Posted: Apr 09, 2014
Hear from Geno Auriemma and his players after their National Championship victor...

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/885881/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_885000/ff_885881_xl.jpg&w=100 74.95 Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black
    Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Georgetown_Hoyas/browse/featuredproduct/1030243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1030000/ff_1030243_xl.jpg&w=100 119.95 Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue
    Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Duke_Blue_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/1032710/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1032000/ff_1032710_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue
    Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oregon_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/1052002/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052002_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green
    Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Ohio_State_Buckeyes/browse/featuredproduct/1052645/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052645_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet
    Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Indiana_Hoosiers/browse/featuredproduct/1124528/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1124000/ff_1124528_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Cri..
    adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Louisville_Cardinals/browse/featuredproduct/1127200/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127200_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/1127218/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127218_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey ..
    Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Gonzaga_Bulldogs/browse/featuredproduct/1155821/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1155000/ff_1155821_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue
    Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Champions Adjustable Hat – Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Hurricanes/browse/featuredproduct/1177723/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1177000/ff_1177723_xl.jpg&w=100 25.95 Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Cham..