Every year, the Illini head up to Chicago to play a “home” game for Chicago fans in the United Center. Despite a shaky start yesterday vs. Illinois-Chicago (UIC), the Illini pulled off a 74-60 win.
Due to a deal made a while back, every three years the United Center game is against UIC. While for the longest time this game was a joke, the last time UIC faced Illinois at the United Center the result was disastrous, and was kind of the beginning of the end Weber era. Anywho, let’s just say those results made me a tad nervous headed to the UC yesterday, even though UIC isn’t a great team.
The first half was a bit of a nightmare, and there were some sad flashbacks for Illini fans. Kelsey Barlow, formerly of the Purdue team that Bruce Weber was unable to beat at home or on the road for many years, went OFF. Dude had 20 points in the first half, and it seemed like UIC made every bucket they attempted, shooting 62%. This was true of 3′s as well, as they were 7-12.
It’s not that the offense wasn’t working for Illinois, who shot 48%, it was just more that the defense couldn’t do a thing.
With a halftime score of 44-34, thing were a bit scary. Thankfully, in typical Coach John Groce style, the second half came together in all the right ways and Illinois sailed away with a solid 14-point win. UIC scored just 16 points in the second (less than Barlow scored TOTAL in the first), and held Mr. Barlow to just 1 point in the second. As for 3′s, the Flames were 0-7.
So if we were just to look at the second half of the game, I’d be a pretty happy girl. While UIC led by as many as 13 points in the first, as soon as Rayvonte Rice tied the game up 53-53 about six minutes into the second, Illinois couldn’t be stopped. Whatever Coach Groce said in the locker room was rather successful, and that’s how Illinois needs to play for an entire game. No need to freak us out like that ever again.
Rice had a slow start (like everyone else), but by the end he had a season-high 28 points. I really wanted him to hit 30 but he didn’t quite make it there. Rice also had 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Joseph Bertrand was in double figures with 14 points and 5 rebounds, while Tracy Abrams contributed 16 points and 4 assists.
The Illini were also 19-25 on free throws, and no one was ever really in serious foul trouble. These are important things to note with conference season right around the corner. UIC was the last non-conference game, and while I believe Illinois really could’ve gone undefeated, I’ll settle for just two losses.
On Tuesday, the Illini will kickoff conference play by welcoming Indiana to the State Farm Center. The one good thing about the Assembly Hall name change is that we don’t have the same name as the Hoosiers.
The game will be on Tuesday at 2pm Central.