Illinois notebook: Illini and Georgia Tech to square off at Assembly Hall

John Supinie

CHAMPAIGN -- When Illinois and Georgia Tech last met in the Assembly Hall in 1989, the Flyin' Illini survived a broken foot suffered by guard Kendall Gill in a 103-92 double-overtime win. The following day, Illinois assumed the No. 1 ranking in college basketball and later made the school's first trip to the Final Four in 37 years.

The two teams meet again at the Hall on Nov. 28, the final day of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. This time, it's a matchup between two programs trying to claw their way back into the upper half of conference standings, and they won't be found in the preseason top 25.

Under first-year coach John Groce, the Illini head into the season with limited depth at point guard and fifth-year senior transfer Sam McLaurin attempting to fill a void created by Meyers Leonard's jump to the NBA. Brian Gregory heads into his second year as Georgia Tech coach. The Mount Prospect native previously led Dayton to the NIT title in 2010 (and a win over Illinois in the Hall) plus two NCAA appearances, but his Yellow Jackets also face a significant rebuilding project.

Georgia Tech dismissed Glen Rice Jr., who was the team's leading scorer and rebounder, and will rely on a four-man incoming freshman class ranked 16th nationally by The Yellow Jackets ranked 319th in the nation in scoring last season following a 54-36 loss to Miami in the ACC first round to end the season with a 11-20 record overall and 4-12 in the league.

In the 14th edition of the series, North Carolina-Indiana and NC State-Michigan are the premier games on Nov. 27 with Ohio State-Duke the marquee matchup on Nov. 28. Times and TV assignments will be announced at a later date.

Meanwhile, Illinois saw fifth-year guard Julius Mays commit to Kentucky Sunday. The Illini, Purdue and Michigan State were also chasing Mays, a former Marion, Ind., star who began his career at NC State before leading Wright State in scoring last season.

Normal University High School sophomore Keita Bates-Diop, ranked No. 39 nationally in his class, made an unofficial visit to Illini basketball Monday.

WOMEN'S GOLF: Following her sixth year as Illinois coach, Metamora native Renee Slone faces a transition after the Illini made their second consecutive NCAA regional appearance and fourth in school history. Illinois placed 14th among 24 teams Saturday in the West Regional. The top eight teams advanced to the NCAA championships. Illinois earlier placed fifth in the Big Ten Championships, the program's best finish since 2002.

"It shows we're heading in the right direction,'' Slone said. "We've got some consistency established. We're starting to set a new standard, a new bar for the program.''

The Illini return sophomore Ember Schuldt, who led the Illini in NCAA play, but Illinois loses four seniors who routinely filled the rest of the starting lineup.

"We'll definitely have a different dynamic,'' Slone said. "It's an exciting time for our program and a great opportunity for this group of players to continue what's been established.''

Normal U High senior Katherine Hepler, a Lincoln resident, signed with Missouri after first committing to Illinois. The 10-time Drysdale Tournament champion in Springfield was last year's Class 1A girls state champ.

BASEBALL: After losing five of their last six games, the Illini must win two more games than Ohio State in the final week of Big Ten play to pass the Buckeyes and Minnesota in the standings to qualify for the six-team conference tournament. The Illini host Minnesota Thursday through Saturday in the final three-game series.

The defending Big Ten regular-season and tournament champ, Illinois (26-24 overall, 9-12 in the Big Ten) might catch a break. The Gophers are 1-8 on the road in the Big Ten.

TENNIS: After defeating Auburn 4-3 in a five-hour marathon, Illinois advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 12th time in 14 seasons. The host Illini secured the second-round NCAA win over Auburn with a 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 6-3 by Bruno Abdelnour in No. 3 singles.

"That was a lot of pressure on me,'' Abdelnour said.

CARAVAN: Highlighted by appearances by Groce and football coach Tim Beckman, the Illini make a stop at Peoria Country Club Wednesday and Erin's Pavilion in Springfield on May 21. Cost is $25. Register at An autograph session starts at 5:30 p.m. at both locations with the program starting at 6:30 p.m.

John Supinie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.