LIVE pregame report as Illinois visits Northwestern


WCIA 3's Marlee Wierda reports from Welsh-Ryan Arena before 7 p.m. tip

EVANSTON (WCIA) — Illinois basketball has a chance to guarantee itself a winning Big Ten record with a win at Northwestern Thursday night. The Illini (18-9, 10-6 B1G) haven’t done that in a decade, only making it to .500 in league play once in that time. A win over the Wildcats (6-20, 1-15) would also be the fifth Big Ten road win for the Illini, tying them for most in the league.

One guy who could make a big difference is Giorgi Bezhanishvili. The sophomore forward has hit a major sophomore slump, only making 15 of his last 55 shots in his last nine games. His minutes have decreased as well, tying a season low on Monday against Nebraska, playing just 13 minutes while going 0-for-6 from the field. The one consistent piece for the likable big man has been his rebounding. Despite not scoring, Bezhanishvili has pulled in 17 rebounds the last three games. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood says his struggles are not for a lack of effort.

“The thing that’s so impressive with Giorgi is even though he’s struggling, if you watch our bench, which we keep a camera on our bench during games, he’s the first one up cheering, he’s the first one up slapping a high-five,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “What an unbelievable teammate he is, and the game finds it’s way back to you. When you do those things it will come for Giorgi.”

Illinois will no doubt need Bezhanishvili to reach its full potential in the home stretch of the regular season. Giorgi scored 13 points in a 75-71 win over the Wildcats last month in Champaign. With just four games left, Illinois likely needs just one more win to feel comfortable about a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. A Big Ten tournament seed is also up for grabs, as several teams juggle for position at the top and middle of the league standings.

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