Seniors face Michigan in last home test

 

 

By Erin Foley

On the same night that Chief Illiniwek will perform for the last time, seniors Warren Carter, Rich McBride and Marcus Arnold will play in their final home game at Assembly Hall. Their personalities may be as different as the roles each has held during their time with the team, but tonight, when Illinois hosts Michigan (8 p.m., ESPNU), they hope to bring the Illini one step closer to the ultimate goal of 21 wins.

Carter, a Dallas native, averaged just 8.8 minutes per game during his first three seasons. This year, though, Carter stepped out of James Augustine’s shadow and shed his “chill” attitude. He is currently Illinois’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game and is also the team’s second leading rebounder (6.2 rebounds per game). Today, Carter will have extra motivation as his mother, Kamela, is making her first trip to Champaign. She hasn’t been at one of Carter’s games since the 2005 Final Four.

At the beginning of the season, Weber was worried about whether Carter could become more than just a highlight player.

“There are times when I wish Warren would play at a higher level and with more intensity, and yet, he’s still been our most consistent guy,” head coach Bruce Weber said.

Following a DUI arrest in October, McBride wasn’t expected to be able to fulfill a leadership role. His transformation throughout the season has been apparent, especially to Weber. In last Sunday’s game against Northwestern, McBride had a game-high 15 points. The past two seasons, McBride has been Illinois’ third leading scorer.

“Rich’s progress as a person, and as a player, has really been amazing, and now he’s a pretty big man in the Big Ten,” Weber said.

Following Illinois’ win on Sunday, McBride joked that the “whole town of Springfield” would be coming to watch him play, and said he remembers the first day he came to campus.

Forward Marcus Arnold’s first trip to campus came in 2004, after he transferred from Illinois State. Although Arnold averages only limited minutes per game, he made the most of his opportunities against Indiana on Feb. 10 when he scored 12 points in 15 minutes. Weber said Arnold calls him more than anyone else on the team to ask what he can do to help the team.

“He never complains and there’s never been a better teammate,” Weber said.

“Sometimes, he over-thinks things and it causes him to overplay or overshoot a lay up,” Weber said. “He needs to just relax. In some of our bigger games, he seems to relax a little better and comes up with some big made baskets.”

The last time the two teams faced each other, the Illini dropped a 71-61 decision to the Wolverines on Jan. 3 in Illinois’ Big Ten opener. It was a game that set the tone for a team that had been riddled with injuries. At that point, the Illini (19-9, 7-6) were battling for an NCAA Tournament berth, and coincidentally, are still in the same position.

“We just (have to) try to get as many wins as possible to try to help our resume,” McBride said.

Weber said the Illini will have to stop the Wolverines’ scoring penetration and will also have to keep them off the glass. He also admits that because Michigan (18-9, 6-6) has managed to keep its head above water, as most of the other teams in the league have, the game is a big one for both teams.

Carter just hopes the trio can finish their careers the right way.

“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” he said. “It’s surreal to me that it’s coming up, and I’m hoping that it can be all of our best games of the season.

“It’s a big night for all of us, and an emotional night for all of us.”