Offensive inconsistencies hold back Illinois in home loss to No. 11 Arizona

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Cameron Krasucki

Alfonso Plummer looks for teammates during Illinois’ 83-79 loss to Arizona on Saturday at State Farm Center. The Illini offense stalled in the second half, with Frazier and Plummer the only consistent threats from three.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Illinois lost a hard-fought battle against No. 11 Arizona on Saturday in Champaign. The final score was 83-79. 

In addition to being outrebounded for just the second time this season, the Illini were also outscored 42-16 in the paint. They gave up 18 fast-break points while only scoring three.

“It’s really hard to overcome someone just taking your ball constantly,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Our ball toughness was not good, and it led to five, seven, nine to zero runs for just taking the ball.”

Arizona forced 16 turnovers, and the fast-break points that resulted sustained them as the Illini launched a barrage of threes. Illinois came into Saturday averaging 24 3-point attempts a game, and the Illini took 36 against Arizona.

In the first half, the Illini lived by the three. They made eight treys before the half, with most coming as part of a 19-0 run. The run ended as soon as the threes stopped falling, and Arizona closed the gap to four points.

Junior Kofi Cockburn’s struggles contributed to the Illini’s commitment to hoisting threes. Cockburn was smothered by Arizona’s twin towers down low, Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis. Koloko recorded four blocks, all on Cockburn and Tubelis recorded a block of his own. 

After their big run, the Illini went just 1/7 from three to end the half.

“Getting outscored 42-16 in the paint when you have Kofi, that’s problematic,” Underwood said. “Not many nights you see Kofi go 5/15, so give them credit. They got stops when they had to, we had a chance and we just didn’t execute.”

Seniors Trent Fraizer and Alfonso Plummer attempted to shoot their way to victory, and for a while it worked. Both made three 3-pointers in each half. They scored 27 and 25 points, respectively. However, just like in the first, their shots stopped dropping as the second half came to a close.

After taking a one-point lead with just over nine minutes to go, the Illini missed six of their next eight threes. Without Kofi scoring consistently, Illinois couldn’t keep up with Arizona’s offense, which was fueled by sophomore Bennedict Mathurin.

Mathurin scored 30 points, just one shy of his career high, and grabbed seven rebounds. He was nearly unstoppable on Saturday, unless being guarded by Fraizer, Underwood said.

The sophomore is expected to be a first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft.

“Mathurin’s what they look like, folks. You want to see a pro? That’s what they look like,” Underwood said. “(Frazier)’s elite; I’ve said it many times. He’s the best defender in the country, and he gets no credit because he doesn’t block shots, he doesn’t come up with a ton of steals.”

Frazier did come up with a ton of steals on Saturday. He recorded two in the first half and three in the second to make five steals total. He also blocked one shot.

After struggling from the field early in the season, Frazier gave his best performance of the year on both sides of the ball. The rest of the team didn’t have his back, though.

Of the 10 Illinois players who played on Saturday, just four scored, with Jacob Grandison being the only one not yet mentioned. Grandison added 14 points on 4/9 from deep, but he struggled to score in the mid-range where he usually excels.

“This one stings,” Frazier said. “It’s gonna hurt for a while. … We just got to do a better job defensively closing out games.”

 

@JonesChristianT

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