Men’s hoops tries to clip Iowa on road

 

 

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois wraps up its conference road schedule Saturday when the team travels to Iowa.

The Illini will be happy to see their road season come to end in the conference. Illinois (11-17, 3-12 Big Ten) is just 1-7 on the road in the Big Ten this year, but the Illini are 3-1 in their last four trips to Iowa City – the Hawkeyes snapped Illinois’ three-game road winning streak last season with a 63-50 win.

Despite only three games left in the Big Ten season, the Illini and Hawkeyes have yet to play this season, and with both teams having down seasons this year’s game doesn’t have the traditional appeal and luster.

But that hasn’t affected the Illini’s preparation and doesn’t mean the rivalry won’t be alive with the players when they take to the court at Carver Hawkeye Arena.

“We had a little mini-scrimmage yesterday that kept us in game shape,” junior guard Chester Frazier said. “We’re going to be fired up to play and they have an Illinois guy (junior guard Tony Freeman, from Maywood) who is going to be fired up.”

It’ll have been a week since the Illinois basketball team has set foot on a court to play in a game that means something.

Illinois’ game last Saturday in Michigan left the Illini with a bad taste in their mouths, a taste that has been there most of the season.

But despite the struggles the Illini haven’t given up the hope of aspirations for postseason play, and are focusing their attention on finishing strong in their last three conference games and then looking to play spoiler and make a run in the Big Ten Tournament.

“We’ve had a lot of time to prepare for Iowa,” Frazier said. “We just want to see what we can do and see if we can make some improvement going into the tournament and going into next year.”

Illinois can put itself in good position for the tournament if it performs well over the next week.

With games against the Hawkeyes, Michigan State and Minnesota, the Illini could move up to the conference’s seventh seed for the tournament, and in the process knock Iowa down.

The Hawkeyes are in their first season under new head coach Todd Lickliter, who took over after Steve Alford resigned after last season. Lickliter had spent the last six seasons at Butler, building the Bulldogs program into a mid-major power by compiling a 131-61 record.

Lickliter’s squad is led by his upperclassmen Freeman and senior guard Justin Johnson. Freeman and Johnson both average in double digits in scoring.

Illinois will have to contain the duo to get to try and finally get on a winning track that players have derailed from since the beginning of the season.

“I’m pretty sure no one on this team has been though a season like this,” Frazier said. “It’s been tough, but if you start doubting yourself your confidence will go away.”