Illini sharpshooters catch a cold spell

Wesley+Fane+The+Daily+Illini+Illinois+Trent+Meacham+%281%29+makes+a+shot+near+the+end+of+the+second+period+in+the+game+against+Iowa+at+Assembly+Hall+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+1%2C+2009.%0A

Wesley Fane The Daily Illini Illinois’ Trent Meacham (1) makes a shot near the end of the second period in the game against Iowa at Assembly Hall on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009.

By Jeremy Werner

The Illini began the year scorching the net. They led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage for most of the season but have dropped to second behind Ohio State at 47.2 percent after recent struggles from the field.

While much of the team has had difficulty, the team’s best shooters, Trent Meacham and Alex Legion, have the worst case of the cold touch.

Meacham has shot 7-of-33 in the last six games. The team’s leading 3-point shooter for players with more than 20 attempts (41.9 percent), the senior guard has made only four of his last 25 attempts from beyond the arc. Meacham, who averages 10.4 points per game, hasn’t scored more than seven points in the last five games.

“I don’t think we’ve screened well for (Meacham),” said head coach Bruce Weber. “But I also don’t think he’s cutting hard and looking to get open. He’s playing a little tentative.”

Legion is 3-of-16 from the field in the past four games since scoring a season-high 15 points at Michigan State on Jan. 17.

“I was hoping it would come a little quicker (for Legion),” Weber said of the Kentucky transfer. “He’s got to get some open shots, got to get some easy looks. I think he gets into the game, and if he doesn’t get a shot off within the first couple minutes, he gets a little impatient and puts up a tough one.”

Weber said Meacham, Legion and sophomore guard Demetri McCamey need to be more aggressive in penetrating the lane to get “easy baskets and get to the free-throw line.”

“It makes it much easier for them, and it helps our offense,” Weber said.

Focus on the glass

Before their 62-54 victory over Iowa on Sunday, the Illini had been outrebounded in five of their last six games. So was the 35-22 advantage on the glass over the Hawkeyes a sign of improvement for Illinois?

“Part of it was Iowa is not a great rebounding team, and they play a lot of small people,” Weber said. “But we have been hurt by even teams with small people in the past, so I guess it is a positive.”

Weber said the Illini need Mike Davis, the team’s leading rebounder with 7.2 boards per game, to continue to grab “eight to 12” rebounds per night. He added that 7-foot-1 sophomore Mike Tisdale lacks the strength and balance to be a force on the glass, but said he needs to continue to box out his defender.

Weber also said he would like senior guard Chester Frazier to rebound more, even though “we ask a lot out of him.”

“I try to get one rebounding drill in every day … just to keep it as a mental thing,” Weber said. “I hope over the course of time we can make some progress with that.”

Redshirt Simpson progressing

As the only freshman on the Illinois roster, Stan Simpson is the only player to live in the campus dorms. He’s also the only one without a minute of playing time this season as he is redshirting to gain a fifth year of eligibility.

“It’s not easy for him, any redshirt,” Weber said. “Especially now, you feel like you’re not part of it all the time. We, as a staff, try to give him some of that personal attention.”

In addition to regular practice sessions, Simpson has individual workouts the day of games and before practice to get more one-on-one time with the coaches.

Weber said Simpson needs to continue to make improvements, including having a consistent effort level in practice. But he said the Chicago Simeon product has shown flashes.

“He’s made some progress,” Weber said. “There is about once a week, or once every ten days, Stan shows some ability that he can be very, very effective. Some of it is the nature of the practice, and he’s redshirting so he doesn’t get to do it every time. But when he turns it on, he can block shots. He can rebound. He has some potential there. He’s starting to learn the game and play hard.”