Monday, December 19, 2011

ESPN Preview of Cornell at Illinois

After posting one of its ugliest offensive efforts in quite some time, previously undefeated Illinois finds itself in an unfamiliar position.

The No. 19 Illini look to bounce back from their first loss of the season Monday night against visiting Cornell.

A defense that has limited opponents to 38.4 percent shooting and 57.2 points per game masked some of the offensive shortcomings of Illinois (10-1), which was off to its best start since 2005-06. The Illini, though, shot a season-low 25.4 percent -- their worst effort in nearly five years -- in a 64-48 loss Saturday to UNLV at the United Center in Chicago.

D.J. Richardson, averaging a team-best 14.2 points, scored 19 but was the only player to reach double figures. Fellow guards Sam Maniscalco and Brandon Paul went a combined 3-of-22 from the floor, compiling a total of 13 points.

"(The Runnin' Rebels) are athletic, they are long. They have versatile guys," coach Bruce Weber said. "They've played a lot of different ways. ... They switched things and we didn't react to that. That's my job to do a better job preparing."

"You can't dig yourself a hole like that, especially against an opponent of that caliber that has that kind of scoring punch and athleticism," added Maniscalco, who went 1 for 10.

The Illini, who are ninth in the Big Ten in scoring at 69.5 points per game and tied for 10th in 3-point shooting at 32.4 percent, figure to match up much better against the Big Red (4-4), who have also struggled offensively. Cornell is shooting just 41.9 percent -- including a 38.7 mark on the road.

The Big Red have been outscored by 12.7 points in going 0-3 as the visiting team, and have dropped 14 of 16 away from home dating to last season.

Cornell, though, is riding a bit of momentum after recording back-to-back overtime victories. The Big Red beat Lehigh 81-79 on Dec. 3, and defeated Albany 85-82 on Saturday.

While guard Drew Ferry, who leads the team 14.6 points per contest, scored a career-high 26, it was fellow senior Chris Wroblewski who played the role of hero, hitting the game-winning 3 with 5.6 seconds remaining.

Slowing down Ferry will surely be a priority for the Illini -- he's scored a combined 46 points while going 12 for 22 from beyond the arc over the last two games.

Cornell, which reached the regional semifinals of the 2010 NCAA tournament by knocking off ranked opponents Temple and Wisconsin, has dropped three straight versus Top 25 foes by an average of 14.0 points.

Illinois has posted 19 consecutive victories over unranked opponents by 18.1 points per game at Assembly Hall.

The Illini own a 4-1 advantage in this all-time series, though the teams haven't met since Cornell prevailed 72-60 on Dec. 23, 1961, in Champaign.

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