In its first meeting with a ranked foe this season, Illinois dispatched #19 Gonzaga 82–75 on Saturday afternoon at the Assembly Hall.
Some quick game notes and observations:
— Seven-footer Robert Sacre put the hurt on the Illini early. His physical play forced both Meyers Leonard and Nnanna Egwu into foul trouble, which forced Bruce Weber to extend Abe Djimde 7 minutes of first-half playing time (12 overall). Weber said after the game that he was pleased with Djimde’s defense. Still, Sacre tallied 14 points (with 0 fouls) in 18 minutes before intermission.
— Zags coach Mark Few uses a globe to fill out his roster. In addition to Sacre and fellow Canadian Kevin Pangos, German Elias Harris started, while another German and a Frenchman saw limited action late.
— Few had to switch his team to a 2-3 zone defense midway through the half, with Illinois up 8 and threatening to pull away. It was a good move. Having subbed out 3-point ace D. J. Richardson and mid-range shooter Tyler Griffey, the Illini struggled. Three minutes later, the score was tied. Gonzaga continued to play zone at various points throughout.
— Illinois has stretched its man defense the length of the floor this year, but has yet to employ much trapping or apply much real pressure to opposing guards bringing the ball up the court. So it was refreshing to see the press lead directly to a scoring opportunity late in the first half, when Richardson stole an inbounds pass underneath his own basket.
— The home crowd was none too pleased with the officiating of Mike Greenstein, Frank Harvey, and Rick Batsell. When Sacre was whistled for his first foul at 17:12 in the second half, Illini fans mocked the refs with a standing ovation. When the big man eventually fouled out, everyone went berserk.
— The Zags committed 10 of their 16 turnovers in the second half. Few later said he wasn’t sure whether his team’s poor ball-handling late in the game was “pressure-forced or decision-based.” Whatever the reason, young David Stockton (son of John) led the bunch with 4 miscues.
— Leonard submitted another fine effort, finishing with a game-high 21 points, team-high 6 rebounds, and 1 blocked Sacre shot. He continues to tantalize observers with the options he presents. For example: late in the second half, with 1 second on the shot clock and Illinois inbounding from under its own basket, Leonard went straight to the hoop and tipped the lobbed pass onto the rim. It didn’t fall, so Meyers tipped in his own miss.
More of that, please.
Photos and captions by Rob McColley