CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — “Put it in all caps: SOFTNESS. SOFT,” was the way Illinois head coach Brad Underwood used the to describe his team’s performance on Saturday, in a 83-76 loss to No. 11 Arizona.
The Illini only scored 16 points in the paint compared to Arizona’s 42, even with Kofi Cockburn on the floor. Defensives lapses, and scoring droughts, and turnovers were all part of the Illini’s lack of toughness which led the Wildcats winning. The Illini have also dealt with significantly injuries over the last few weeks, with Underwood also announcing that guard Austin Hutcherson will be out for the season due to an athletic hernia that needs surgery. It doesn’t help that Illinois’ preseason All-American Andre Curbelo hasn’t been on the court, amid all of Illinois’ struggles.
“We’re gonna grind, we gotta get better, and we’ve gotta have, five-on-five smash mouth, tough, consquence basketball,” says head coach Brad Underwood. “And that’s the reality of it. And there’s gotta be consequences for turning the ball over, there’s gotta be consequences for not executing, and not catching the ball in your spot. I’ll quit saying it because it sounds like an excuse nonetheless, but I’m the least damn excuse maker there is in the world.”
“We gave up easy buckets to them down the stretch, and that can’t happen,” says Frazier. “So we just gotta do a better job defensively, on getting stops, and turning those into baskets on the other end.”
The Wildcats also scored 25 off Illinois’ 18 turnovers with a critical one coming late in the second half.
In the final minutes of the game and the Illini down three, Alfonso Plummer took a five second call to turn it over to Arizona.
“He said he never knew that there was a closely guarded rule without the dribble — so that’s on me,” says Underwood. “I’ve gotta explain that, he’s been in a good spot, we were running a play with him, he’s letting everybody get set and unfortunately that’s an unfortunate incident.”
The Illini have some time to clean things up, with a non-conference game against St. Francis on Saturday. The Illini tip-off at 12 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.