Illini unable to hang on to 16-point lead in first half

Illini unable to hang on to 16-point lead in first half

By Erin Foley

PHOENIX – Leading No. 16 Arizona 41-36 at halftime, the Illinois basketball team was in control.

But just as quickly as Illinois had climbed to a 16-point advantage in the first half, it picked up four fouls in the opening two minutes and 30 seconds of the second half.

Senior forward Warren Carter was charged with his third foul just 20 seconds into the half, while senior guard Rich McBride picked up his third with 18:49 to play.

It got worse from there as senior forward Marcus Arnold was called for an offensive foul and went to the bench with his third foul with 17:44 to go.

Junior forward Shaun Pruitt replaced Arnold, but he too picked up his fourth foul with 16:07 to play.

“We had to play softer,” Arnold said. “On the call I got my fourth, my hands were straight up. It affected us a lot. I feel I couldn’t put my hands up the last few minutes on plays.”

But the backbreaker was Carter’s fourth foul just 2:30 into the half.

At that point, Illinois held a 47-42 advantage after Carter had already scored six points, blocked a shot and grabbed two rebounds in those opening minutes.

The foul situation affected Carter’s intensity when he was put back in the game with 11 minutes to go.

“It was in the back of my mind, but at the same time, I’m going to keep playing hard on defense because that’s what wins games,” Carter said. “It was just in the back of mind, really.”

None of the Illinois players would comment on the officiating, but Weber didn’t shy from the subject.

Illinois was called for 16 second-half fouls to Arizona’s seven.

Arizona shot 71.4 percent from the free throw line (10-of-14 shooting), while Illinois attempted just four second-half free throws.

“I think it would have been closer, that’s pretty obvious,” said Weber of how the calls changed the momentum of the game. “Would we have won, I don’t know.”

Illinois’ slew of early fouls in the final half led to Weber’s technical foul with 7:50 to play. While the Illini players wouldn’t comment on the team fouls, they thought Weber had no choice but to pick up the technical.

“I think he had to do it, something had to be done to get the referees’ attention,” Chester Frazier said.

Budding big men

Freshman center Chase Budinger led the Wildcats with 22 points and eight rebounds to go along with three assists in his 36 minutes of play.

Budinger also shot 50 percent from the field on 6-of-12 shooting.

“Budinger is so solid, good,” Weber said.

“He’s got to get better defensively; I think he gets lost. That will come over time. He’s a 4,3,2,1, but he can handle the ball. You think you did a good job on him, but he still had 22; that’s pretty good for a freshman, that’s great poise. He’s very smart; he knows the game and that’s what amazes me,” he added.

Budinger proved to be a challenge for the Illini, but forward Ivan Radenovic (13 points, 4 rebounds), who played in the Elite Eight game against Illinois in 2005, forced Illinois to scramble inside the post.

“We just ran some sets that got the ball to Ivan down low and had him attack, and if they gave help, he did a nice job of finding guys spotted up elsewhere on the court,” Wildcat head coach Lute Olson said.

Frazier fights through

Still feeling the effects of a sprained ankle he suffered in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, sophomore guard Chester Frazier fought through the pain again, this time adding 11 points and four assists in 39 minutes.

“I’m just playing off sheer adrenalin,” Frazier said. “I’m real sore right now but I’ll go back and get some treatment when I get back to school.”

Added Weber: “Chester probably shouldn’t even be playing to be honest. He’s just so tough. I don’t even know how many rolls of tape (he’s gone through).”

Quote of the game

“That was a pretty controversial call at the end of the first half; if you watch the tape, I think you would agree. And that could have made a big difference. You score at the end of the half, it’s a big bucket, but it didn’t go our way.” – Bruce Weber on the controversial technical foul call against him.