UI basketball notes: 'That's what Da'Monte does'

UI basketball notes: 'That's what Da'Monte does'

MADISON, Wis. — Da'Monte Williams rarely pops off the stat sheet. What the Illinois sophomore guard does simply doesn't show up in the box score, but he was one of the first players Illini coach Brad Underwood mentioned after Monday night's 64-58 loss at No. 22 Wisconsin.

"That's what Da'Monte does," Underwood said. "Defensively, he's versatile. He's athletic. He was chasing balls tonight. He was effective offensively, and, again, on a night that wasn't the best shooting night for our two guards — Trent (Frazier) and Ayo (Dosunmu). Yet, Aaron (Jordan), (Andres Feliz) and Da'Monte impacted the game."

Williams finished with four points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

★ ★ ★

Dosunmu led Illinois with 13 points Monday, but it took 4 of 15 shooting to do so and he was just 1 of 7 from three-point range. Earlier Monday, the 6-foot-5 guard repeated as Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

Dosunmu scored a team-high 15 points in Illinois' win at Ohio State on Thursday and also contributed four rebounds and a game-high three assists. Dosunmu's three-pointer with 29 seconds to play helped secure the win against the Buckeyes, and he scored or assisted on nine of Illinois' final 15 points.

Dosunmu has now matched the sophomore Frazier, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice last season.Illinois missed out on opportunity for another Quadrant 1 win — a deciding factor in NCAA tournament selection — Monday night against Wisconsin. Still, the Illini have three, and they've all come in the last month with wins against Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State.

"There's 270 teams that do not have a Quadrant 1 win," Underwood said. "There's 30 that have three or more, and we're one of those teams, and we'll play some more here down the stretch.

"I think it speaks volumes to how much we've improved. I think it speaks volumes to how good this league is. Every single night, you're going to play top-shelf people. When you play the best and you start beating them, you're going to get rewarded with that. Let's see if we can keep doing that and adding to that."

★ ★ ★

Thursday's game at Ohio State was the first game Alan Griffin's dad, Adrian, saw him play in person this season. Adrian Griffin, a 10-year NBA veteran, is currently the top assistant for Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse. The elder Griffin used the NBA All-Star break to make the trip to Columbus, Ohio.

"That was his first time seeing me play in a college game, so it was nice to have that moment," Alan Griffin said. "He usually tries to go over film with me, but he's got his own stuff to worry about."

★ ★ ★

Giorgi Bezhanishvili set a career-high with four blocks in Illinois' win against Ohio State, and the 6-9 freshman forward had seven blocks in the Illini's four previous games heading into Monday night's showdown with Wisconsin. He had six blocks in the other 21 games and added two more on Monday.

"Those blocks came out of nowhere, to be honest," Bezhanishvili said. "I wasn't expecting that of myself, but it just happened."

Underwood likes that addition to Bezhanishvili's game.

"I think it's an aggressive type of thing that he's doing in terms of being off the ball and being able to go get shots," the Illini coach said. "He's a guy that does have long arms and very big hands. He's got great timing. I think he's found something he likes a little bit and can go do that."

Even with Bezhanishvili blocking more shots of late, Underwood didn't sound like it would be an every game type of thing. The defensive assignment the Rustavi, Georgia, native draws take him out of some potential shot blocking situations.

"Giorgi's drawing everybody's best offensive player in their frontcourt every night," Underwood said. "It gets hard to get too far away from those guys to go block shots, yet he's picking and choosing his spots. The thing we have to do is make sure we're cracking down on the back side when he does go help and making sure if he happens to miss one our guards are blocking out and helping him. I like Giorgi's aggressiveness."

★ ★ ★

While Bezhanishvili hasn't totally escaped foul trouble lately, he's not fouling at near the rate he did early in the season. Mostly, he's not picking up fouls close together. He credits simply the experience of playing Division I basketball for nearly four months.

"Back home we call the game a little differently," Bezhanishvili said. "Now I've got more and more games and more and more experience. I know what officials will call. Sometimes I still get in foul trouble, but I'm a lot more confident now with what to do."

★ ★ ★

Illinois has played on every single day of the week except Friday this season. Monday's game against Wisconsin was the Illini's second on a Monday, with their Maui Invitational opener against Gonzaga the other.

"That's the one thing I guess I've become accustomed to in the Big Ten is we're going to play every night of the week," Underwood said. "I'm an old school guy. I love Saturday games, but we didn't have one. If they tell us we play at six in the morning, we'll show up then. It's the way it works, and we've become pretty accustomed to that."

★ ★ ★

Canada has produced an increasing number of high-major-caliber players in the last several years, and Illinois has tried to tap into that market on the recruiting trail. The Illini targeted now Michigan freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and Vanderbilt freshman Simi Shittu in the 2018 class, and they were in Syracuse-bound Quincy Guerrier's recruitment to the end while also going after Virginia Tech signee Emanuel Miller.

Illinois' recruitment of Canada's top prospects is continuing in the 2020 class. With an offer already out to five-star wing Addison Patterson, the Illini also offered Toronto native and four-star wing Keon Ambrose-Hylton on Saturday.

The 6-6, 185-pound Ambrose-Hylton is ranked as high as No. 73 nationally in the 2020 class by 247Sports. Rivals has him at No. 115. Ambrose-Hylton played at Chattanooga, Tenn., powerhouse Hamilton Heights Christian Academy last season and is at Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, this year.

Ambrose-Hylton has other offers from Dayton, Detroit, Florida, Howard, Tulane and Tulsa. He represented Team Canada at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina and averaged 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds playing alongside Patterson.

Illinois has offered a slew of other wings in the 2020 class. Those targets include the likes of Jabri Abdur-Rahim (son of former NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim), a trio of St. Louis area wings in Cam'Ron Fletcher, Luke Kasubke and Caleb Love and the teammate of 2019 commit Antwan January in five-star Kyree Walker.Scott Richey