GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini will close out their home schedule on Saturday, as they welcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers to Assembly Hall for a Big Ten Conference clash.
Nebraska has put together a rather lackluster season, going just 13-15 overall while being situated toward the bottom of the Big Ten standings with a 4-11 league ledger. The Cornhuskers are losers of three of their last four games, most recently falling to nationally-ranked Wisconsin on the road on Tuesday night, 77-46.
Illinois was the hottest team in the Big Ten heading into last Sunday's bout at Michigan, but it fell victim to the tough road game as it dropped a 71-58 decision. The Illini are 20-9 overall and have made a mark in arguably the most difficult conference in the nation, going 7-8 in the Big Ten with wins over Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota. They have also claimed signature non- conference wins against Butler and Gonzaga to round out a resume' that appears strong enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois claimed the first meeting between the two teams this season, winning 71-51 in Lincoln on Jan. 22, to improve its standing in the all-time series to 9-3.
The Cornhuskers never had a chance in their latest game, as they were outshot by Wisconsin from the field, 50.9 percent to 32.8 percent, on their way to an embarrassing 31-point setback. Overcoming his teammates' struggles was Dylan Talley, who shot 9-of-20 from the field for 21 points while also grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Brandon Ubel was also useful in the loss with 10 points and six boards. On the season, Nebraska has the Big Ten's most futile offense, as it pours in just 58.5 ppg, and while its scoring defense would appear strong by most league's standards (63.2 ppg), it's only good enough for ninth place in the Big Ten. Talley isn't typically a strong shooter, as he nets a mere 37.4 percent of his field goal attempts, but he generates enough volume to lead the team with 14.2 ppg. Ray Gallegos (12.3 ppg) has also been sub par from the floor (.365), while Ubel brings stability to the frontcourt with 11.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg.
Despite leading Michigan by two points early on in the second half last Sunday, Illinois fell victim to an 11-0 Wolverines run and it could never recover from there on its way to a 13-point defeat. The Illini shot only 41.2 percent from the floor, while Michigan netted 51 percent of its total shots. D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams all poured in 10 points in the loss. It was a rare performance for Illinois, which ranks fourth in the league in scoring offense with 70.8 ppg, although it is oftentimes let down by a lackluster scoring defense (65.3 ppg). Paul scores 16.2 ppg and is a strong defender with 1.2 spg and 0.8 bpg, but the point guard has more turnovers (83) than assists (82). Richardson contributes 12.8 ppg thanks mostly to his 68 3- pointers, which is the second-most in the league behind Indiana's Jordan Hulls (71). Rounding out the guard-heavy squad is Abrams, who leads the trio in field goal percentage (.419) en route to his 10.9 ppg.
Following a setback against one of the nation's top teams, Illinois will be eager to return home where it has gone 11-4 this season, to face a team that has struggled all season long. Figure the Illini's guards to get back in rhythm here, leading their team to victory.
Game Date and Time