NCAA BK

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 - 9:00 PM ET
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St. Bonaventure-Illinois Preview

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Illinois may be one of the most unheralded unbeaten teams in the country, but Meyers Leonard is one reason it's starting to get noticed.

Fresh off their most prominent win of the young season, the 24th-ranked Fighting Illini host St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night seeking their best start in six years.

Leonard went 9 for 11 from the floor and scored a game-high 21 points to help Illinois (8-0) to an 82-75 upset of then-No. 19 Gonzaga on Saturday. The 7-foot-1 sophomore center averaged 2.1 points in 8.2 minutes as a freshman, but he's emerged as the Illini's leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 13.4 and 6.6, respectively.

Leonard picked up two quick fouls and sat out the final 8:39 of the first half against the Bulldogs.

"I knew I had to come out in the second half and keep my head on straight to help the team win," Leonard said. "I came out a little more confident as the game went on, and I felt like I continued to do good things. It felt good."

D.J. Richardson had 19 points and Brandon Paul added 13 for Illinois, which hasn't won its first nine games since beginning the 2005-06 season 15-0.

Coach Bruce Weber feels his team is better than advertised, though the Illini had played a weak non-conference schedule prior to beating Maryland 71-62 on Nov. 29.

Illinois will face UNLV - which beat then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26 - in Chicago on Dec. 17 and No. 10 Missouri in St. Louis on Dec. 22 in non-conference tests prior to the start of Big Ten play Dec. 27 versus Minnesota.

"There are how many undefeated teams in the country now?" Weber asked. "Somebody's got to notice."

Illinois has won 12 straight and 24 of 25 home games versus non-conference opponents, and it will host a St. Bonaventure team that has been largely unimpressive since being picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10.

The Bonnies (3-3) are coming off a 66-60 win at Buffalo on Saturday, as Andrew Nicholson went 8 for 9 from the field and scored 23 points with eight rebounds.

Coach Mark Schmidt changed his lineup prior to that contest, starting guards Charlon Kloof and Matthew Wright over Eric Mosley and Michael Davenport. It's unclear if Schmidt will stick with the same starting five against Illinois.

Nicholson, a senior forward, leads St. Bonaventure averaging 15.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. He bounced back against Buffalo after going 6 for 22 with 15 points over his previous two contests.

Nicholson is shooting 47.3 percent while averaging 14.2 points in six career games versus ranked opponents.

The Bonnies have lost their last 20 games against ranked teams since beating then-No. 23 Temple 57-56 on Jan. 15, 2000.

St. Bonaventure has split four road games this season and has lost seven of its last nine away from home.

Tagged: Illinois, St. Bonaventure, Andrew Nicholson, Meyers Leonard

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