NOTES: Big night from Frazier key in Illinois win

NOTES: Big night from Frazier key in Illinois win

CHICAGO — Trent Frazier wasn’t much of a factor at the offensive end in Illinois’ regular season finale loss at Penn State. The 6-foot-1 sophomore guard took just two shots in the loss to the Nittany Lions — so between eight and 13 fewer than Illini coach Brad Underwood would prefer.

Frazier got those shots Wednesday night against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Most importantly, he made them, finishing with 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 5 from three-point range, in Illinois’ 74-69 overtime win against Northwestern.

“I kind of let the game come to me,” Frazier said. “I didn't want to force any shots. Just play my game, do what I do. Like I said, the team, they trust me down the stretch to make a play for myself and my teammates. That's what I did.”

Frazier hit one of the Illini’s two overtime three-pointers. He also assisted on the other, which freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu knocked down.

“Trent’s been really patient and had a good feel and understanding of where shots are coming,” Underwood said. “Trent didn’t settle. He had a couple pull-up jump shots. He lifted guys with his shot fake. Trent’s not afraid to take a big shot. He made one, and then Ayo followed it up.”

Underwood said Frazier found a “happy medium” between playing fast and taking shots that are both in rhythm and in the flow of the Illinois offense.

“Yet we want him to be aggressive,” Underwood continued. “That’s the best asset that Trent has is his aggression, and we don’t want him to lose that. (Wednesday) was perfect. He gets 15 shots, and that’s where it needs to be in the 10-15 range. We needed him on a night that Ayo struggled a little bit offensively. Besides Giorgi (Bezhanishvil), we needed some punch.”

While Underwood has stated his preference for Frazier to get double-digit shots, the lefty out of Florida isn’t as concerned.

“I don't determine shots in the game,” Frazier said. “Whoever's got it going, that's who we're going to get the ball to. Fortunately that was me (Wednesday). My teammates did an unbelievable job of finding me and trusting me to make big shots down the stretch.

“Shots, you know, it doesn't matter how many shots I take. I'm going to play what coach wants us to do, run the offense and just be a good point guard out there. I was making some shots (Wednesday), and I got it going, so I continued to be aggressive and I was successful."

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Bezhanishvili did provide the offensive punch early for Illinois. The 6-foot-9 freshman forward scored Illinois’ first 14 points of the game and finished with a game-high 26. It was the type of performance that further reinforced the case Bezhanishvili might have been a fit on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team alongside Dosunmu.

"He’s been Big Ten Player of the Week,” Underwood said. “Not many freshmen are doing that. But I get it. That’s why this league’s great. Somebody had to be off. Yet he’s a kid with a lot of pride, and (Wednesday) he showed everybody that he was probably worthy. But we only take five, and I get it.”

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Illinois’ first substitution of Wednesday’s game was a complete line change with Andres Feliz, Tyler Underwood, Alan Griffin, Kipper Nichols and Adonis De La Rosa all checking in. Brad Underwood said it wasn’t his plan to pull the hockey-like substitution, but there wasn’t a dead ball until the 15 minute, 49 second mark of the first half.

“We’re really encouraging our guys, ‘If you get a little winded, ask to come out,’ ” Brad Underwood said about managing his rotation. Illinois technically went 11 deep, but freshman Tevian Jones played just two minutes in the first half.

“It was more Kipper’s been good in practice,” Brad Underwood continued about Jones not getting comparable playing time off the bench. “Tyler’s been really good in practice. He gets us into offense and scraps for loose balls and takes charges. I was proud of those guys. We didn’t lose much, yet we got our guys some much needed rest.”

***
Feliz led all players with 10 rebounds. Aaron Jordan chipped in eight for Illinois. Da’Monte Williams had five. Their 23 combined made up more than half of Illinois’ rebounding total. Jordan is the tallest of the bunch at 6-5.

“Preaching, preaching, preaching that we get that,” Brad Underwood said. “We know what we’re getting with Dre. He’s just a tough pit bull. We know he’s going to stick his nose in there and grab rebounds. He’s done it his whole career. We start getting 5-6 rebounds from those guys … that’s what we’ve got to have. We’ve got to team rebound. We don’t have that one interior guy that’s going to get 10-15 every night.”

***
Wednesday’s game was Dererk Pardon’s last for Northwestern. Vic Law, too, although he didn’t even get a chance to play — forced to sit out because of the leg injury he suffered in the Wildcats’ regular season finale.

Coaching those two for the last time got Northwestern’s Chris Collins feeling a little nostalgic after the five-point Illinois victory. They both helped the Wildcats win double-digit Big Ten games in 2016-17, play in the Big Ten tournament semifinals that season and not only make the NCAA tournament but win a game in it, too.

“There’s a lot of firsts that that group did that will never be taken away from them,” Collins said. “That’s what I told them. Their legacy is not about what happened this year. It's about the overall body of work and what those guys have meant to our program and their belief in us when there wasn't a whole lot to believe in.

“We really didn't have the facilities. We didn't have the tradition. We didn't have the history. You know, I was just trying to sell a vision and a dream of what I thought Northwestern basketball could be. Now we face ourselves in a position where we've got to build it again, and I'm committed to doing that. It's going to take a lot of work. We've got to get better. I've got to be better. We've all got to get better. We've got to get it back to where we know we can get it. It's something that I'm anxious to do once we can let the dust settle and rest a little bit.”

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