Monday, December 19, 2011

Chicago Tribune Previews Cornell at Illinois

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday at Assembly Hall, Champaign.

Radio/Internet: WIND-AM 560,

Records: Cornell 4-4, Illinois 10-1.

Shannon Ryan's quick look: Illinois needs to rebound from its first loss of the season. Finding the basket would be the best road to recovery. The Illini shot only 25.4 percent in Saturday's loss to UNLV. This is a rough stretch for the Illini that started with the Runnin' Rebels on Saturday and includes quick turnarounds with games Monday against Cornell and Thursday at No. 10 Missouri.

A glance at Meyers Leonard's 7-foot-1 frame, his athleticism and passing ability show his NBA potential in an instant. The goal for Illinois coach Bruce Weber is to not let the sophomore become too caught up in his future.

"The chatter has worked on his head," Weber said. "Instead of worrying about today and getting better, there's too many people (he hears mentioning the NBA). He doesn't have the maturity now to deal with that."

While Weber blamed the media, even UNLV coach Dave Rice called Leonard a potential NBA lottery pick after the Runnin' Rebels beat the Illini Saturday at the United Center.

There was evidence of the immaturity Weber talked about in the UNLV loss, the first of the season for the Illini (10-1).

Meyers connected on just 3 of 8 shots for seven points, often facing double teams. Despite shooting 81.6 percent on free throws before the game, he made only 1 of 6 from the line.

Leonard was not part of the postgame interviews.

Weber said Sunday that he and other coaches planned to talk to Leonard more about it after the nonconference season.

"We've talked about it since last year," Weber said. "That bothered him early last year. He just thought everyone said he's a pro so he was going to be a pro. You have to work at it."

In the past, Weber has also blamed players' distraction or poor games on their focus on their futures.

Illinois will try to shake off the disappointment of Saturday's loss on Monday at the Assembly Hall against Cornell, a team Weber called "scrappy."

"The good thing about basketball is you don't have to sit and dwell on a difficult loss or a performance that didn't live up to your expectations," he said.

The Big Red (4-4) has won their last two games — against Lehigh and Albany — in overtime. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski, a Highland Park native, averages nine points and 5.9 assists per game.

"They're a team that's not going to back down," Weber said. "They scrap and play hard. It's a chance to recover and get some confidence back at home."

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