Illini seek important road win against rested Boilermakers

Daily Illini File Photo ME Online

Daily Illini File Photo ME Online

By Erin Foley

In their years at Southern Illinois, Bruce Weber and Matt Painter revitalized a Saluki program in need of some life. The duo took three different teams to the NCAA Tournament and won a combined three Missouri Valley Conference titles. They still talk on the phone at least once week, if not more, about respective “teams, ourselves, or other situations,” Weber said.

That friendship, though, will be forgotten Saturday when Illinois travels to West Lafayette, Ind., for a 1:30 p.m. match-up with Purdue (13-7, 2-4).

“We put a lot of long hours in at SIU to get that program re-energized – a lot of good, bad and ugly in between and it became a positive thing,” Weber said. “I hope it’s hard on him, but at the same time, they’re trying to survive, every win is important.”

The Boilermakers are coming off a bye week, but also two road losses to Wisconsin and Michigan on Jan. 17 and 20, respectively. Purdue, though, is undefeated at Mackey Arena this season.

“They’ve really been executing (recently) and playing their system well, and we’re going to have to come out and play solid defense like we did in the Indiana game to get away with a win,” sophomore Jamar Smith said.

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    The win over Indiana was the first against a Top 25 opponent, even though Illinois shot just 38.6 percent from the field. With the Illini’s field goal shooting a problem at home, Weber is worried about the numbers slipping in a road environment, especially for junior center Shaun Pruitt.

    “Now one of the things, and I’ve brought it up to him, is his performances at home compared to the road,” Weber said. “And some of it he just gets emotionally involved on the road and starts listening to the crowd. So now, we have to see if we can make the big step.”

    Since spraining his left knee against Wisconsin, Pruitt, who is still playing with some swelling, has started to become more of a complete player, Weber said.

    A sold-out Mackey Arena crowd is expected to give Illinois problems, as is six-foot-seven forward Carl Landry. Weber sees Landry, as opposed to Ohio State’s Greg Oden or Indiana’s D.J. White, as more of a mobile player.

    “We don’t really rely on one person (to cover Landry), and we’ll try to work into more of a team-oriented thing,” freshman Brian Carlwell said. “I think maybe we’ll use some post traps and maybe have some guards on the weak-side dig in (around him) whenever they can.”

    With just one Big Ten road win to date this season, Weber knows grabbing a victory at Mackey Arena will be a tough task, considering Illinois and Purdue are ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the conference. Both teams are also scrapping for an NCAA Tournament berth, but Illinois holds an advantage. This is the only meeting of the season between the two schools.

    “We get a road win against them, it puts us one notch up, especially since they don’t have to come back here,” Weber said. “If they get us, it’s a positive step for them.”

    Lucas Deal contributed to this report.