Braggin’ rights have expired: Illini play host to Loyola College
Beating Missouri was nice, but for the Illinois men’s basketball team, the euphoria from winning its eighth straight in the Braggin’ Rights series didn’t last long.
“It was obviously a great feeling after the game,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who gave his players a three-day break after the 59-58 win Saturday in St. Louis. “For anyone who’s ever been there, you know the atmosphere is very special and unique. Just to hold up that trophy is great.”
But Wednesday was back to work for the Illini (7-4), who began preparation for their game at 8 tonight against visiting Loyola College in Maryland. This is the first meeting between Illinois and Loyola, but Weber thinks he knows what to expect from the Greyhounds (5-6). Coach Jimmy Pastos, coming off an 18-13 campaign in his fourth year at Loyola, was an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland for 13 seasons.
“They do a lot of scrambling, pressing defenses,” Weber said of the opponent that is winless in five road games.
While the Greyhounds will attempt to run the Illini guards through the motions, Weber said he will use games tonight and Sunday against Tennessee State to solidify his rotations heading into their Big Ten Conference opener Jan. 3 against Ohio State.
“I’m still figuring out the team, who we need in there at the end of games,” Weber said. “We have to get some consistency from the main guys. At some point we have to get our rotations down to where we know what we’re going to get out of those guys on a consistent basis.
“And if we could shoot it a little better, that would help, too.”
The Illini are shooting .434 this season, which includes .289 from 3-point range. Seven players have led the team in scoring, and six of them are averaging between senior center Shaun Pruitt’s 13.2 points per game and junior point guard Chester Frazier’s 5.2.
Translated, the Illini lack a consistent scorer, especially late in the game. The coach hopes someone will emerge this weekend against two very beatable opponents.
“Now we have four home games and we have to get better in this stretch,” Weber said, including the Ohio State game and a Jan. 6 date against Penn State at Assembly Hall. “We need to use the Missouri game as a confidence builder and move forward.”
Still, while this team appears to be searching for a leader and its identity, Weber stressed the Illini aren’t very far from being ranked.
“We’re two possessions away from being in the Tp 25,” Weber said of missed opportunities that cost the Illini wins against Maryland and Arizona. “There are some things you can’t control, but the mental breakdowns are something we can control.”
Coach Bruce Weber said junior guard Steve Holdren has a case of turf toe suffered in practice last week. Weber estimated the 6-foot-5 shooter could be out 2 to 4 weeks. “If Trent (Meacham) and Demetri (McCamey) play well, we’re fine,” Weber said. “But Steve gives us another option at the two-guard. ... Weber said he is close to making a decision on the status of sophomore Brian Carlwell. The 6-11 center has played a total of five minutes in three games, but hasn’t seen the floor since Nov. 28. Carlwell reportedly has a knee injury and could receive a medical redshirt. “He started workouts (Wednesday),” Weber said. “We have to see if we can get him to where he can help us this season.”
Greg Stewart can be reached at 686-3202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.