Archive for Saturday, December 19, 1998

S KEMPER ARENA. BOTH SQUADS ARE 7-2.

December 19, 1998

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— This was supposed to be a rebuilding year at Illinois.

After all, Lon Kruger's Fighting Illini lost all five starters off last year's Big Ten championship team.

Surprise ... Illinois takes a sparkling 7-2 record into today's Sprint Shootout contest against No. 13-ranked, Kansas (7-2). Tipoff is 3:05 p.m at Kemper Arena. The game will be shown live on channels 5 and 13.

"Probably interesting is the best way to describe it," Kruger said of Illinois' play in nonconference games. "We are looking around and searching for roles. Guys are looking at each other and wondering. We've got to step up now. The Big 10 season is approaching."

Kruger's Illini, who play an aggressive man-to-man defense, rank 13th nationally in scoring defense. Illinois allows 56.6 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting.

However, Illinois averages just 64.9 points per contest.

"We are very inconsistent, especially on the offensive end. Scoring has been difficult for us. We have been more consistent on defense," said the 46-year-old Kruger, now in his third season at Illinois after head coaching stints at Florida and his alma mater, Kansas State.

"We're not taking care of the ball. Too many people are trying to do too many things offensively."

The Illini have lost to Wake Forest (75-73 in overtime) and George Washington (64-58) and beaten Georgetown (65-50), St. Louis (70-65), UT-Martin (71-35), UT-Pan American (71-56), Valparaiso (53-49), Bradley (53-48) and Eastern Illinois (70-67).

Illinois will be playing its second game with former small forward/shooting guard Sergio McClain at the point.

McClain, a 6-3, 215-pound sophomore, averages 11.6 points and four rebounds. Former point guard Cory Bradford (12.3 ppg) has been switched to the two spot.

"We saddled Cory with so many responsibilities at the point, he was overwhelmed," Kruger said of the 6-2 freshman. "Now Cory moves over and is free to score. We're not going to get a lot in transition right away, but it's a move we're excited about."

Cleotis Brown, a 6-4 junior, and Robert Archibald, a 6-10 freshman, average 12.2 and 4.7 points. Victor Chukwudebe, a 6-7 junior, averages 5.7 points and 6.3 boards.

"You know they'll get out and play good man-to-man defense," KU coach Roy Williams said. "With Lon involved, the tremendous competitor he is, they'll play extremely hard. It'll be hand-to-hand combat."

The game offers an intriguing matchup.

"Our teams are somewhat similar in we both had tremendous personnel losses from last year," Williams said. "It's one of the things you enjoy about college basketball. You are continually changing over."

Kruger -- he had an 0-2 record versus KU while at Florida and a 4-7 mark against the Jayhawks at Kansas State -- is concerned.

"As always, their guards are very active," Kruger said. "They keep pressure on you at all times. You can't cheat off anyone because any one of them can get 20 on you.

"This is not a Kansas team that is as big as the last three years," Kruger added. "We are similar in size. Roy is fantastic. Kansas is always a team in the truest sense. It's going to be a very intimidating crowd. I don't think many of the fans will be for Illinois."

-- Gary Bedore's phone number is 832-7186. His e-mail address is gbedore@ljworld.com

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