No. 13 Illinois men’s basketball hosts Northwestern, aims to extend lead atop Big Ten standings

Center+Kofi+Cockburn+dunks+the+ball+into+the+hoop+during+the+game+against+Wisconsin+on+Feb.+2.+The+Illini+will+be+up+against+Northwestern+on+Sunday.+

Cameron Krasucki

Center Kofi Cockburn dunks the ball into the hoop during the game against Wisconsin on Feb. 2. The Illini will be up against Northwestern on Sunday.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

With just seven games left in the regular season, No. 13 Illinois is set to play host to Northwestern at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

No. 13 Illinois (17-6, 10-3) is back at home in Champaign after suffering a blowout loss to No. 3 Purdue on Tuesday that snapped its four-game win streak. Northwestern (12-10, 5-8) has won three straight since falling to the Illini late last month.

“They’ve changed a little bit since we played last. They’re letting it fly from three,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “(Boo) Buie and (Chase) Audige, (Robbie) Beran have all been just letting it fly, and they’re playing a little faster. There’s a lot more ball-screening in their offense than we’ve seen.”

The Wildcats have won their last three games by a combined 34 points, including a game in which they “smacked Nebraska at Nebraska,” Underwood says. Northwestern won by 25 in Lincoln after hitting 13-31 threes, while 12 of its first 14 shot attempts came from three.

By contrast, the Wildcats attempted just 18 threes against Illinois in their last meeting, a game the Illini won, 59-56, in Evanston. In that matchup, Northwestern senior Pete Nance gave Illinois problems. Nance scored 21 points on 8-15 from the field, but he has averaged just eight points a game since.

“He’s a matchup nightmare,” Underwood said. “That’s why that guy’s gonna have a chance at the next level. He’s got a running sky hook. He’s got a 3-pointer; I mean he’s got a pretty full bag of tricks to go to.”

Thanks to junior center Kofi Cockburn, the Illini haven’t had much trouble stopping opposing bids this year. Cockburn’s average of 22 points and 11 rebounds earned him spots on the Wooden and Abdul-Jabar award watch lists.

It’s on the perimeter the Illini have struggled. Senior guards Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams can more than hold their own, but those two can’t do it alone. Against Purdue, the Illini allowed several open threes late in the second half, which sealed Purdue’s win.

One came when graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer lost his man after a missed shot. Purdue got the offensive rebound, kicked it out to the corner and hit the triple. Plummer should have known this was coming, Underwood says.

“We made a lot of scouting report mistakes,” Underwood said. “We told him that they kicked to the corners, and we worked on it. We stand and watch and we give up the three. Those are scouting mistakes. I think there’s some lessons to be learned in how to guard (Jaden) Ivey in a ball-screen. I compare it a lot to Luka (Doncic) the other night. Goes for 51, the Clippers switched it, put a five-man on it. And after getting six threes dotted in their eye, they had to change. We probably got to do that a little bit more.”

 

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