HQ forecast: Gonzaga 73, UI 69
Beat writer Marcus Jackson's breakdown of No. 13 Illinois at No. 10 Gonzaga, 9 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.3
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.3
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 17.8
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 10.4
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.0
FYI: Egwu nailed the first three-pointer of his career in Illinois’ last outing against Western Carolina, ending a 9-0 Catamounts run in the second half.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.2
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.4
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 4.3
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Gary Bell Jr. So. 6-1 10.1
G Kevin Pangos So. 6-2 10.6
F Guy Landry Edi Sr. 6-6 7.0
F Elias Harris Sr. 6-8 16.8
C Sam Dower Jr. 6-9 9.0
FYI: Pangos (16 three-pointers) and Bell (15) have made exactly half of the three-pointers for Gonzaga, which has made a three in 636 consecutive games.
OFF THE BENCH
F Kelly Olynyk Jr. 7-0 13.8
C Przemek Karnowski Fr. 7-1 9.3
G Kyle Dranginis Fr. 6-5 5.1
Site: McCarthey Athletic Center (6,000), Spokane, Wash.
TV: ESPN2 — Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play) and former Illini Stephen Bardo (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 4-1.
Last meeting: Illinois 82, Gonzaga 75, Dec. 3, 2011.
FYI: This will be Illinois’ first trip to the Kennel. The building, which opened in 2004-05, has been kind to the Bulldogs, who are 55-5 in nonconference games there.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
Illinois has played against big frontcourts this season. Hawaii and USC were big. Gonzaga’s is big, deep and really good. Elias Harris has been on NBA radars since he torched Illinois at the United Center three years ago. Olynyk, Dower and Karnowski will play for money one day. The Illini, who have struggled on the interior at both ends this season, will have to step it up today. “When you look at the minutes played by their 4 and 5s, the depth of those guys and what they bring to the game in the post and on the glass, defensively, affecting shots, it’s certainly the best we’ve played to this point,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
Illinois didn’t lose to Western Carolina on Tuesday at the Assembly Hall, but it sure felt like it listening to players and coaches afterward. How they bounce back from the disappointing performance, with a Top 10 opponent waiting, is something the coaching staff is looking forward to. When the Illini struggled at Hawaii, they bounced back with a 30-point win against USC. When they struggled against Gardner-Webb, they handled Georgia Tech. It might take another 70 percent shooting effort in the first half or someone going on a personal 10-0 run to win in a hostile environment.
It’s no secret one of the main reasons the Illini are unbeaten and why they’re a group that’s fun to watch is the rate at which they shoot the three-point shot. Illinois is averaging 11 made three-pointers per game this season. It will need that and maybe more in a tough environment at Gonzaga. When the shots haven’t been falling, however, Groce’s squad has stepped up in other areas. When they hit a season-low seven treys against Western Carolina earlier in the week, the Illini forced 22 turnovers and scored 29 points off those turnovers. Look for other aspects of the game to step up in the event of a cold-shooting night.
Gonzaga 73, Illinois 69
Illinois’ mantra is “Togetherness and toughness.” The Illini didn’t have that the last time out, and a similar effort will turn into an embarrassment on national television. Expect to see a more inspired performance against the Bulldogs, who have grown accustomed to taking every opponent’s best effort as they have become one of the country’s marquee midmajor programs. Their depth and size could prove insurmountable for Illinois. “I just don’t think they have any weaknesses,” Groce said. (N-G prediction record: 8-1)