Illini gear up for season after low-energy exhibition contests

When the No. 13 Illinois basketball team hosts UC Irvine at the Assembly Hall on Monday for the regional round of the 2k Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, the outcome will count.

“There’s no looking back now. If you lose, it counts against your record,” senior center Mike Tisdale said. “It’s going to be important. Last year, Utah, Bradley was obviously overlooked. Hopefully this year we’ll be more prepared.”

But the Illini have not had long to get ready for their first regular season contest.

On Thursday, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said he still didn’t have a tape on the Anteaters, just a roster and some box scores.

Senior Mike Davis didn’t appear worried about the lack of information about UC Irvine.

“With the guys we have on this roster, we should still win, even if we don’t know anything,” Davis said. “Just go in there, play defense, play our game, hopefully.”

Davis led the Fighting Illini scoring effort in the exhibition contests, tallying 15 points and seven rebounds against Lewis. The forward added 11 points and 14 rebounds against Southern Indiana.

For Tisdale, who tallied 21 points against the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles on Tuesday, the close scores of last week’s exhibition contests were a reality check.

“It definitely woke us up, I would hope,” Tisdale said. “We can’t just, you know, play around. We have to get down to business, we have to work hard, and guys have to get better.”

At the helm for UC Irvine is first-year head coach Russell Turner, who spent the previous six seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

Leading the way for the Anteaters offense a year ago was All-Big West Conference second-team selection Eric Wise, who averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds for UCI a year ago.

This preseason, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds, hitting 20 of 32 field goals, as the Anteaters split a pair of exhibition contests.

Weber has a simple solution for his Illini.

“I think the main thing is we’ve got to worry about ourselves,” Weber said.

“We have to have Demetri (McCamey) play better for us to be a top-25 team,” Weber added. “That definitely has to happen. We have to do a better job on the boards, we’ve got to do a better job taking care of the basketball.”

Senior point guard McCamey tallied just 15 points in the two preseason contests. But sophomore guard D.J. Richardson expressed confidence in McCamey’s ability to bounce back.

“He’ll jump in when the games start getting more serious I think, but I just told him he’s got to stay more consistent,” Richardson said. “I think his hip’s been bothering him a little bit, so that could be a factor. But I think he’ll get it going and get the team going and we’ll all jump on the bandwagon.”

Despite the squad’s unimpressive preseason and McCamey’s early struggles, Davis said he is confident in this year’s Illini.

“I know we have the same guys (as) last year that beat Michigan State, same guys that took Ohio State to double overtime, beat Wisconsin,” Davis said. “We have the same guys and the same team that played the same minutes and some extra better players, so we’ll be fine.”