Meacham, Brock shine in their career finale

By Meghan Montemurro

PORTLAND, Ore. – In the absence of Illinois guard Chester Frazier, fellow seniors Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock played the game of their lives against 12th-seeded Western Kentucky. While their efforts on the court against the Hilltoppers didn’t result in a win, it wasn’t because of the seniors’ performances.

PORTLAND, Ore. – In the absence of Illinois guard Chester Frazier, fellow seniors Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock played the game of their lives against 12th-seeded Western Kentucky. While their efforts on the court against the Hilltoppers didn’t result in a win, it wasn’t because of the seniors’ performances.

“The seniors, Calvin came through, a good story ending, I’ve said that,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said after Thursday night’s game. “Trent played like he never dreamed he’d play, so I’m proud of that.

“I guess it makes you feel a little better that you made it a game,” Weber said. The Illini had trailed by as many as 17 points.

Meacham logged the most minutes for the Illini (37:28) and went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc en route to a 24-point, four-steal, three-assist, three-rebound performance. Brock registered a double-double for the second time in his career and the first time since his sophomore season, netting 14 points and grabbing 10 boards, which matched his career high.

“It’s going to be tough for them knowing they can’t come back and put on another uniform,” said sophomore Demetri McCamey. “But I just want to give credit out to Calvin and Trent, they played tremendous, and if Chester was here, I know he would have played tremendous too. We’ve just got to give them credit; they’ve played great the whole year.”

Frazier, who sat out after right hand surgery, finished his career ranked ninth in Illinois history in minutes played with 3,566, and he played in 125 career games, starting 88 of them. The Baltimore native also ranks sixth in career assists with 484.

Meacham, a standout 3-point specialist, left a mark on Illinois’ record books as well. In his three seasons for the Orange and Blue, Meacham played in103 games, starting 77 of them, while ranking ninth in 3-pointers with 178. His 3-point field goal percentage of 40.8 is fifth best in school history. Brock, the last remaining player from the 2004-05 national runner-up squad, appeared in 120 career games, recording 621 points and 384 rebounds.

“Just disappointed I guess,” said Brock as he struggled to verbalize his feelings when the final seconds ticked off the clock. “It felt like we let them win that game when we should have won that game. But we didn’t take care of business like we were supposed to, so hey, it’s over now.”

Looking to the future

A disappointing first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament and the end of the season quickly brings questions about the future.

The reins will be handed to a sophomore class full of talent. That group, led by the trio of McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, has a summer of hard work ahead of them.

“Jimmy Price, our weight coach, got to be Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale’s best friend. If not, they’re not going to make a lot of progress,” said Weber. “Demetri’s also got to take a giant step. (Western Kentucky’s) quickness bothered him, and he’s got to lose some weight, get explosive and keep expanding his game.”

While Weber is happy his team achieved the goal of a 24-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance, he’s not satisfied with the result.

“We learned something after last year, and we’ve got to learn something after this year,” Weber said. “We set a goal of getting 24 (wins) and getting into the NCAA and that’s what we did, so next year, we’ve got to shoot a little higher. But you’re going to have to work a little harder to get there.”

A quiet Illinois locker room filled with red-rimmed eyes signified the sense of disbelief that the season was over. McCamey said Weber’s post-game talk, however, was one of encouragement.

“He told us we had a great year, everyone predicted us to not make the tournament like last year, and so we’ve just got to get better and make another step,” said McCamey.

Weber cited McCamey as one of the sophomore standouts who will be crucial next year for the Illini to reach the next level. McCamey acknowledged the improvement he must make.

“It’s going to take me running every day to play 36, 38 minutes a game and just everybody getting a little piece of their game better,” said McCamey.

Caught off guard

For a team that has prided itself on defensive performance, Illinois may not have wanted to glance at a box score following Thursday’s loss to Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers’ 76 points tied the most points the Illini allowed in a loss this season. The Illini also surrendered 76 points to Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 2. Western Kentucky’s hot shooting from beyond the arc – 47.4 percent – was also a season-high allowed by Illinois.

Not helping the Illini’s cause were the Hilltoppers’ 22 free-throw attempts, compared with the Illini’s seven. Illinois was also outrebounded 35-24.

“We knew they were good, we knew they had a lot of weapons,” said Weber. “Their perimeter play was very good. The second-chance points … they really hurt us. They had the furious threes in the second half; I think they just really killed our spirit.”

Four Western Kentucky players made at least two 3-pointers and five recorded doubles figures in points.

The Hilltoppers’ smaller guard-oriented lineup caused matchup issues for Illinois. While Davis notched 12 points, the 7-foot-1 Tisdale scored zero points, missing all four field-goal attempts, and grabbed only one rebound in a little more than 19 minutes of play.

“They have a lot of quick players, everybody shoots threes,” said Brock. “I mean, when you have to help, and then they can pitch it to anybody on the floor and they all make them, it’s hard to stop that.”

NCAA Tournament notes

Illinois appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the 28th time … The Illini have reached the Tournament nine of the last 10 years … Illinois ranks 11th in the NCAA in all-time Tournament appearances … The Illini have an all-time NCAA Tournament record of 38-29 … The Orange and Blue have received the No. 5 seed four times in the program’s history and are 3-4 as that seed, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2004 and the second round in 1998 … Illinois’ all-time record against Western Kentucky is 2-1 … The Illini tied for fourth with 16 games played this season against NCAA Tournament teams … Duke, Michigan and Michigan State are tied for first with 17 … Calvin Brock was the first Illinois player to record a double-double in an NCAA Tournament game since former Illini and current Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams had 22 points and 10 assists in the 2005 regional final against the Arizona Wildcats