Meacham leads Illini to 78-61 victory over Weber State

John Supinie

Illinois junior guard Trent Meacham enjoyed a fast start to last season in his first year with the Illini after transferring from Dayton, then the former Champaign Centennial High School star disappeared in Big Ten Conference play when the opposing defenses became bigger, faster, stronger.

After Meacham put up a career-high 26 points in the 78-61 victory over Weber State Saturday afternoon in a non-conference basketball game at Assembly Hall, he claimed the recent five-game road swing already helped him prepare for the conference season that starts in January.

"I think I'm ready and more confident this year than last year,'' Meacham said. "We played some good teams this year. We've played on the road and in some difficult environments. For myself and the team, we'll be more prepared this year than last year.''

Meacham surpassed by two points his previous high set against Florida A&M last season as Illinois improved to 5-2 overall. Despite strong performances in three straight games, Meacham could still erase some pessimism when Illinois plays Arizona on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago.

While seniors Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle failed to pad the box score, Meacham was the only Illini to finish in double figures against Weber State, the defending champ and preseason league favorite from the mid-major Big Sky Conference.

Meacham was 11-for-15 from the field and 4-for-8 from the 3-point line. He scored 20 points in the first half, earned the start in the second half and likely worked his way back into the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the last three games.

"I'm not sure we can continue to do that,'' said Illini coach Bruce Weber. "We told Trent to just relax, play confident, watch the game and get in there, get involved and shoot the ball with confidence. He's had three solid games in a row.''

While jumping between point guard and shooting guard last season, Meacham also battled the internal pressure of returning to his hometown. This year, he's shooting 48 percent from the field and has 20 assists with only five turnovers. His 10.9-point scoring average leads the Illini after he averaged 2.1 points in Big Ten play last year.

"There was a lot of pressure on him, more internally,'' Weber said. "He's a little bit like Brian. He's sensitive. He's worried about everything. He's trying to please everybody. He had the world of Champaign on his back. The players say, 'The best of Champaign.'

"Sometimes he was two guard (last year). Sometimes he was point guard. Sometimes he was starting. I don't know if he knew he was on foot or horseback half the time. Maybe he can settle in and be a solid two guard for us.''

Meacham will likely start with point guard Chester Frazier. Freshman Demetri McCamey will back them up. Junior Calvin Brock, who started the last three games, will slide to small forward.

Meanwhile, Pruitt finished with six points and four rebounds while Randle had two points and two rebounds.

"I'm not too worried about Shaun or Brian,'' said Frazier, who had eight points, six assists and one turnover. "They'll be fine. They're pressing a little bit because they've had a few sub-par games. When it comes time, they're going to be our biggest guys.''

Weber State's zone defense had something to do with clogging the middle, but both players need to eliminate the internal pressure and just play, Weber said.

"Shaun put a lot of high expectations on himself,'' Weber said. "When he's not done well, instead of relaxing and letting the game come to him, he's forcing it. If you're good, you're good. It will show in the long run.''

Illinois built a 67-29 lead, but Weber State (2-4) made it a more respectable score with a 16-0 run against Illini freshman reserves.

"It looked like Illinois was a little upset that they lost to Maryland the other night,'' said Weber State coach Randy Rahe. "They were ready to play tonight. When they want to turn up the heat defensively, they can do whatever they want to do out there.''

NOTES: Illini sophomore reserve center Brian Carlwell is out four to six weeks with a sprained knee. Surgery isn't expected. He suffered the injury in practice Friday afternoon. Depending on the length and success of the rehabilitation, Carlwell could face a medical redshirt, but he's not thinking in those terms now, Weber said. . . Meacham's point total was the highest by an Illini since Dee Brown scored 26 against Michigan on Jan. 14, 2006. . . Frazier led the Illini in rebounding for the fourth time after grabbing six against the Wildcats.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com.

Illinois report card

Front court: B

Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle must get back into the groove offensively. Illinois faces Arizona in a key game next weekend in Chicago, and the Illini won't be able to win this one without them. But Randle shut down Weber State star Arturas Valeika, who had five double-doubles in the first five games before finishing with two points and two rebounds.

Back court: B

Chester Frazier had a solid game, allowing him to put the bad memory of his horrible game at Maryland in the rearview mirror. Calvin Brock's string of strong performances came to an end.

Bench: A

Trent Meacham's career-high 26 points boosted the bench, although the freshmen didn't do a good job of protecting a 38-point lead. Meacham's perimeter scoring ability is desperately need.

Overall: B

This was basically a 40-point blowout before the Illini substituted generously with 8 minutes left. Illinois regained some intensity after the long road trip. Illinois gets a week to practice and prepare for Arizona, the next chance for Illinois to show some improvement.