HQ forecast: UI 76, Auburn 62

HQ forecast: UI 76, Auburn 62

Marcus Jackson has No. 12 Illinois ending its three-game losing streak at the United Center. Here's his breakdown of today's game

Illinois (12-1)

P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Tracy Abrams    So.    6-1    10.9
G    D.J. Richardson    Sr.    6-3    11.2
G    Brandon Paul    Sr.    6-4    19.2
F    Tyler Griffey    Sr.    6-9    9.3
C    Nnanna Egwu    So.    6-11    6.2
FYI: Despite going 1 for 12 from three-point range during a four-game stretch, Griffey leads the Illini in three-point shooting (44.9 percent), aided by a 4-for-7 effort against Missouri.
G    Joseph Bertrand    Jr.    6-6    8.9
F    Sam McLaurin    Sr.    6-8    4.2
F    Myke Henry    So.    6-6    4.0

Auburn (5-6)
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Chris Denson    Jr.    6-2    17.0
G    Shaquille Johnson    Fr.    6-5    3.9
G    Frankie Sullivan    Sr.    6-1    16.9
F    Allen Payne    Jr.    6-6    6.9
C    Rob Chubb    Sr.    6-10    9.2
FYI: Since becoming eligible at the semester break, Denson has scored at least 13 points in all four games he’s played this season. His teammates are better off, too, the Tigers going 3-1 with him.
G    Jordan Price    Fr.    6-5    7.2
C    Asauhn Dixon-Tatum    Jr.    7-0    4.4
F    Noel Johnson    Sr.    6-6    6.4

Site: United Center (21,711), Chicago.
TV: BTN — Brian Anderson (play-by-play) and Shonn Morris (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 1-0. Last meeting — Illinois 107, Auburn 103 (OT), Dec. 12, 1987.
FYI: The Illini have lost five of their last six games at the United Center, including three straight. The last win was a 76-42 win against Georgia in 2008.

Lost in Illinois’ defeat to Missouri, in which the Illini were outrebounded 58-35 and gave up 44 points in the paint, is the continued development of Nnanna Egwu. The sophomore center recorded career highs of 12 points and nine rebounds against the Tigers. He’ll need to continue trending upward against Auburn’s big frontcourt. “He’s got a lot of confidence right now, which he should. He’s worked really hard, and I think he’s starting to experience some of the fruits of his labor,” UI coach John Groce said. “It was great to have him out there for 35 minutes and not have to deal with foul trouble, especially in a game like that where he was going against size.”

Speaking of rebounding, the Tigers get after it on the glass, especially on the offensive end. After giving up 22 offensive boards last week against Missouri, the Illini will have to contend with an Auburn squad that has collected at least 40 percent of its missed shots in each of the last five games. The key will be controlling the guards. Phil Pressey got to the paint regularly against the Illini forcing the bigs to rotate, creating opportunities for offensive boards. “Their two guards, Denson and Sullivan, are really good off the dribble. They’re going to challenge us as well, in terms of getting in the paint,” Groce said.

Despite the recent shooting woes, the Illini are going to keep firing away from three-point range. But with Big Ten play starting next week, they’d be best served to start making a few more. Illinois is 20 for 78 from three in the last three games, including 8 for 32 against Missouri. It starts with taking better shots and operating within the system, something the Illini got away from against Missouri. “We just got to trust that system a little bit more, let the offense work for us,” Groce said. “I think we took more bad shots than normal. We had some good looks as well that we didn’t make.”

Prediction: Illinois 76, Auburn 62
There’s pressure on this Illinois group to stop the three-game losing streak at the United Center and give a boost to the already-improving perception of the program in the state’s largest city. A win takes care of that, but for the short term, it restores the confidence in a squad that lost its last time out. The Illini showed grit in their first loss of the season. Going forward, they’ll have to combine that with pinpoint execution to survive in conference play. Combining the two is the mission today. (N-G record: 10-3)