MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (WCIA) — For the first time in 13 days, the Illinois basketball team is back on the court and ready to play in a game. A post Christmas COVID-19 pause forced the non-conference finale against Florida A&M last Wednesday to be canceled, as 10 players tested positive for the virus following the holidays. Then Sunday’s game at Minnesota was moved to tonight to give the Illini (9-3, 2-0) more time to get ready and practice, after nearly all activities were shut down during the pause.
Conditioning is certainly a concern for Illinois head coach Brad Underwood, who has had very little time to work with his team leading up to the restart of Big Ten play. Underwood expects more guys to factor into the rotation both tonight and in Thursday’s home game against Maryland.
“The one thing you can never underestimate is the great drug of adrenaline,” Underwood said. “That helps you persevere and push through some tough times.
“This is an opportunity for other guys to step up, I feel like we’ve been on vacation a little bit,” Illinois senior Trent Frazier said. “I think one through 13, we’re going to be amped up ready to go. Like coach said, adrenaline. We’ll have fresh legs, we’ll be ready to go. I think we’re tough enough for it. I think that’s why coach scheduled us in those situations early in the season up in Kansas. Coach always puts us in those situations where we’re going to fell uncomfortable and we just got to get through it.”
Scheduling and COVID-19 are not the only tough aspects to this season though. Underwood was forced to use a lot of his team early due to suspensions, injuries, and the flu, which could ultimately help them in returning from the pause.
“Guys have played, and guys have gotten minutes and guys are going to have to do that,” said Underwood. “It’s not just this game, it’s the Maryland game after on Thursday. To say we’re at our peak would probably be stating something that’s not true, being off that long. But it’s next man up and everybody’s got to do their part and go in and contribute. We’re going to strive to be the best we can.”
The Golden Gophers (10-1, 1-1) are off to a great start this season, losing just once to Michigan State.
But if the Illini can overcome their setbacks, it would be their first 3-0 conference start since 2011. Limiting turnovers will be a key element of walking out of Williams Arena with a win.
“I think we’re 150th in the country in turnover rate, that’s better than the 300th we were after the first four or five games,” Underwood said. “When you have a Top 10 offense, that’s an area where you really start to nitpick your weaknesses. That’s an area Minnesota does not do.”
Illinois and Minnesota tip-off at 6 p.m. on FS1.