Men’s Basketball tries to stay focused

Tim Eggerding

Tim Eggerding

By Lisa Koulias

The No. 1 Illinois basketball team has already set the school record for best start with its record of 18-0.

But the undefeated Illini aren’t finished and have their eyes on the prize – a Big Ten Championship.

As the Illini face off against No. 23 Iowa (13-3, 1-2) Thursday at 6 p.m. at Assembly Hall, they will have another chance to extend their winning streak and move one step closer to a preseason goal.

Iowa, on the other hand, is looking for its second Big Ten win. The Hawkeyes opened the Big Ten season with a home loss to Michigan. They lost on the road at Ohio State before earning their first win against Minnesota.

“I’m sure they are going to have a little extra motivation,” said Bruce Weber on the Hawkeyes. “It’s a nice rivalry between us and them. But then you add No.1 into it, and they need a big victory to help their resume, and maybe make up for that home loss against Michigan.”

And although the Illini are enjoying their winning ways, they still know that the Big Ten is a tough conference and that any team can win on any given night.

“You just don’t know how your team will react when they play different teams,” Weber said. “Right now they have done a good job staying focused – you just have to hope that it continues.”

Randle update

Sophomore forward Brian Randle, who suffered a broken left hand in practice in November, is in the process of working his way back into the swing of things and practicing with the team. Randle had surgery on the hand that successfully repaired the bone, and had the pins removed on Dec. 23.

“I think he got into a little bit of a frustration stage,” Weber said. “With the first week you’ve got a lot of energy, you are excited to get back, and you’re running around. Now, he’s got this plastic cast or brace that they tape on him and I think it gives him trouble shooting. So there is a little bit of frustration.

“We need to get some practices in and get a feel from here and see if he can make some progress and if he is where he wants to be.”

Series standing

The Illini come into Thursday night’s game leading the all time series over Iowa 70-64, and hold a 54-14 advantage over games played at Assembly Hall. Illinois has won four of the last five meetings between the two teams and 15 of the last 16 in Champaign.

The Illini won both games last season over the Hawkeyes.

Losing nightmares

“There are always things that you worry about: Losing, injuries. I think I was the most nervous in a long time for the Northwestern game. I didn’t want to go up there and lose. We wanted to get back at them from last year’s game and then continue the long streak. I was nervous; I tried not to relay that to the team.”

– Bruce Weber