Basketball team is not overlooking Wisconsin

Jeremy+Berg+The+Daily+Illini+Illinois+Demetri+McCamey+%2832%29+drives+the+ball+to+the+hoop+during+the+game+against+Wisconsin+at+Assembly+Hall+on+Jan.+24%2C+2008.%0A

Jeremy Berg The Daily Illini Illinois’ Demetri McCamey (32) drives the ball to the hoop during the game against Wisconsin at Assembly Hall on Jan. 24, 2008.

By Jeff LaBelle

Illinois guard Calvin Brock is well-aware that his time in an orange and blue uniform is running out.

Thursday night’s matchup against Wisconsin (12-9, 3-6 Big Ten) separates the three Illinois seniors – Brock, Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier – from less than a handful of home games left in their Illini careers. And even though it’s not the focus of their energies yet, they’re well aware of the ticking clock.

“I looked at my schedule the other day and saw we only have four more home games,” Brock said. “I mean, it’s coming down to the end.”

No. 23 Illinois (18-4, 6-3) beat Wisconsin 64-57 when the teams last met on Jan. 24, but head coach Bruce Weber wasn’t completely satisfied with the effort. Although he was pleased for the most part with the team’s defense, Illinois let Wisconsin sneak back in the game toward the end.

The Illini had a 15-point lead with less than 12 minutes to play in the January contest, an advantage that all but disappeared over the duration of the half. Wisconsin pulled within five in the last 30 seconds, but Demetri McCamey’s team-leading 25 points carried Illinois to victory.

“It’s that fine line, you want to be patient, but you want to attack,” Weber said. “I don’t think we did very good – we were getting deep in the shot clock and didn’t get much out of it, whether it was ball screen action or just a penetrate and kick. And then it allowed them to get their heads up and they made a couple shots down the stretch, and obviously they pressed us.”

Wisconsin has dropped its last six games, the last five by seven points or less. Weber likened the Badgers’ play to that of Illinois last season when they couldn’t find a way to win close games. Two of Wisconsin’s losses during the streak were overtime contests against Minnesota and Iowa.

Despite Wisconsin’s struggles, the Illini are treating them publicly like a team that is bound to improve its play eventually. Meacham, in particular, was careful not to sell them short.

“You know, this is going to be a tough one,” Meacham said. “They handled us last year up there. It’s a tough place to play. It’ll be fun, but it’ll be tough.

“That can make a huge difference, catching a team at the right time or the worst time,” he added. “Minnesota, we weren’t ready for them, but you know we’ll be ready this Thursday coming out, playing on the road against another good team.”

Illinois beat Iowa 62-54 its last time out, but afterward Weber stressed the importance of having two good practices before facing Wisconsin. By his logic, the team needed to practice well two days in a row to play well in two consecutive games. It was a mental challenge he posed to his team over the week.

But as the season winds down, Weber also has the team’s health in mind.

“I think one of the big keys is we cut practice back time-wise now, you’re in the gut-check part of the season,” Weber said. “But we still got to come out and make improvements. (The players have to) watch tape whether they’re with us or on their own.”