Weber, Illini hunker down for Hokies

Rich McBride winds up for a shot during practice at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, March 15, 2007. Illinois will face Virginia Tech at 7:10 p.m. on Friday. ME Online

Rich McBride winds up for a shot during practice at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, March 15, 2007. Illinois will face Virginia Tech at 7:10 p.m. on Friday. ME Online

By Erin Foley

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bruce Weber knows it’s not going to be easy.

He knows questions remain about whether the Illini (23-11) will be satisfied after squeezing into the NCAA Tournament, or if they will try to stick around for awhile. But questions aside, Weber says a victory against Virginia Tech (21-11) today (6:10 p.m, CBS) will depend on two things: depth and staying out of foul trouble.

The Illini, who enter this year’s NCAA Tournament as the 12 seed in the West Region, have received consistent scoring from Warren Carter and Shaun Pruitt, who are averaging 13.7 and 11.6 points per game, but are still searching for another go-to player. It will be especially important as the Hokies boast a pair of All-ACC guards in Zabian Dowdell (18 points per game) and Jamon Gordon (11.3 points per game), who was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

“Both are lefties, Dowdell and Gordon, and get in the paint, and jump over you,” Weber said of the guard-oriented Hokies. “They really spread you; they really use their dribble well; both score and create for other people. I would say we have halfway decent match-ups with our guards as long as we stay out of trouble.”

Weber says Illinois will have to take care of the ball, get back on defense and contain the ball. In order to get their 39th win in the NCAA Tournament, Weber says it will be important for Carter and Pruitt to continue to produce. But with Virginia Tech’s tendency to have its guards swarm the post, often sticking three defenders on opponent’s post players, Pruitt must do a good job of kicking the ball out to perimeter players.

“If we are going to have any chance to stay around for a while, we are going to have to have Brian Randle and Rich McBride,” Weber said. “Somebody is going to have to step up and double their average or have a special game.

“I think that is the story of March Madness: Have some play special and make some plays that they haven’t done all year, and that’s the team that usually stays around for a while.”

At the Big Ten Tournament, McBride was quiet throughout, going 1-for-9 from three-point range in the Thursday game against Penn State and was 0-for-7 from the field in Illinois’ overtime win against Indiana on Friday. Only during the second half of the Illini’s game against the Badgers did he start to heat up, hitting three three-pointers.

After having groin surgery earlier in the season and having to re-adjust his role with the Illini, Randle is only averaging 7.4 points per game. While getting into a rhythm has been difficult, Randle knows his offensive presence on the court would give the Illini energy. The Illini have averaged just 54.5 points in their last four contests and will have to contest the Hokies’ four players that average double figures in scoring.

“(I) just want to try to get in the groove,” Randle said. “Obviously, the past few games have been pretty rough to say the least. For me, it’s about calming down, really. It’s been a rocky season, and sometimes we’re overanxious. But we’re here in the Tournament, so we just want to be comfortable and play our game.”

Injury Update:

Chester Frazier suffered a knee injury in Illinois’ overtime win against Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Weber is “hoping for the best” against Virginia Tech. Frazier sat out practice Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

“He’s played with worse injuries, so he’ll be rearing to go,” Weber said.