Monday, December 19, 2011

The Pantagraph Previews Cornell at Illinois



CHAMPAIGN -- There was no hiding the hurt and disappointment after Illinois experienced an embarrassing offensive meltdown in Saturday's 64-48 loss to

UNLV.

Moments after the game, in which the Illini shot 25 percent and threw up eight air balls, coach Bruce Weber wore the long look of despair.

D.J. Richardson spoke in barely audible tones.

Most players hurried from the United Center for the team bus.

And while the gloom hadn't necessarily lifted on Sunday, Weber was face-to-face with what he felt was a comforting fact of the hectic college basketball season: There's another game tonight.

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

Cornell, an undersized Ivy League team that will be very different from the long, athletic and attacking UNLV squad Illinois struggled against Saturday, comes to the Assembly Hall for a 7 p.m. game that will not be televised. The game can be followed on an internet feed through ESPN3.com.

"I got a chance to watch (Cornell) against St. Bonaventure when we prepared for them and they are a crafty team, a scrappy team that runs a lot of ball screens and shoots a lot of 3s," Weber said. "We're going to have to do a good job defending the 3-point line."

While Weber said Illinois has been shooting too many 3s (averaging more than 19 a game), Cornell averages more than 25 long-range shots a game. Senior guard Drew Ferry hit seven 3s and scored 26 points in Cornell's 85-82 overtime victory over Albany on Saturday.

But Weber is much more worried about his own team than he is about Cornell.

He sounded like the team would have a full practice Sunday as they worked on various ways to become more efficient offensively.

He mentioned the need to get an inside touch before kicking it back outside.

He mentioned the urgent need to get better shot selection and not settling for so many 3-point shots.

He mentioned the need to stop standing around if the first offensive move breaks down.

And he once again talked about the on-going development of 7-1 sophomore center Meyers Leonard, who Weber said Saturday was being mentally overwhelmed by talk of his pro potential.

Moments before Weber made his comments, UNLV coach Dave Rice called Leonard "as good a post player as their is in the country," and said his team viewed him as "a lottery-type draft pick."

Weber said talk of Leonard's pro potential became a distraction even last season and said the coaching staff will be speaking with him about it during Christmas break.

"We've talked to him about it since last year," Weber said. "There was talk about it and it bothered him early last year.

"He thought, ‘Everyone said he's a pro so he's a pro.' Well, you have to earn it and work at it. There's no doubt the chatter has worked on his head. There are too many people talking about it and he doesn't have the maturity right now to deal with it.

"I talked to the coaches and we're going to have to sit down with him after the nonconference games and say, ‘Here's where you're at and here's what we need to do' and see what his thoughts are and how we can control it.

"I've had experience with it. I did it with Deron (Williams) and Dee (Brown), so we've had to deal with this before. A lot of it comes down to the kid and how he can focus on the season and practice and get better and not worry about the things he can't control down the road."

As the season progresses and the competition improves, Leonard is drawing more and more defensive attention. On Saturday, he scored a season-low seven points and made just 1 of 6 free throws.

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