Motivation key for Illini success

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Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

As the No. 1 Illini continue their winning streak, head coach Bruce Weber continues to try to keep his team motivated.

But as other teams in the Big Ten struggle with injuries and instances off the court, Weber worries that a letdown in his team is possible, especially after several high-profile wins.

“I was saying the other night, ‘we’ll have a downer here someday,'” Weber said. “I don’t know if it will be Sunday, but I’m sure at some place we will not play quite up to where we have been playing the last three games. The way the schedule works out is pretty good because we get recovery time.”

But when the Illini (22-0, 8-0) welcome Indiana (10-9, 5-3) on Sunday to the Assembly Hall for a noon game, Weber isn’t so much worried about a letdown, but the status of star Bracey Wright.

Wright, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer, suffered a left ankle sprain with 15:30 left in Wednesday’s game against Penn State. As he was coming down after hitting a 17-foot jumper, Wright landed on the foot of Penn State’s Aaron Johnson and immediately curled into a ball. He was carried off the court by two teammates and did not return to the game.

X-rays taken after the game were negative, however his status is still unknown. In a Thursday article in the Indianapolis Star, Indiana head coach Mike Davis told Star reporter Terry Hutchens that they expected Wright to play on Sunday.

“I’m hoping that Bracey, for his sake and his team’s sake, I hope he’s back,” Weber said. “Injuries are bad; it’s not good for anyone.”

But even if Wright doesn’t make it into the game, Weber still sees a lot of capability in this young Indiana team.

“They have a lot of young, talented kids and Bracey gives them some stability,” Weber said. “But I have to believe that they will come in loose and free. Coming into our place, playing No. 1 and not having their best player, I think it would be a little bit of an incentive for them to just try to show people what they are about.”

Series standing

Indiana comes into Sunday’s game leading the all-time series 78-74, but the Illini lead in games played in Champaign, 43-30. The Illini have won the last four meetings, five of the last six and nine of the last twelve. Indiana’s last win in Champaign came on Feb. 24, 1999.

Sunday’s game is the only regular-season meeting between the two teams.

Dishing it out

Junior guard Deron Williams is on a pace this season to break various school, as well as Big Ten, assists records. Williams has 151 assists this season, which is on pace to break the Illinois school record for assists in a season. Bruce Douglas set the current record of 200 assists in 1985.

Williams’ average of 6.9 assists per game is on pace to break the Illinois record for average assists in a season (6.40 apg by Tony Wysinger in 1987). In Big Ten play, the junior averages 7.5 assists per game, possibly challenging the Big Ten record of 7.83 apg by Michigan State’s Eric Snow in 1995.

Game time

Illinois announced game time for the Illini’s second game against Purdue this season. This Illini will host Purdue on Thursday, March 3, at 8 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN2.