Game notes: 'The shots aren't falling'

Game notes: 'The shots aren't falling'

CHAMPAIGN — Michael Finke missed both of his three-point attempts Wednesday night against Austin Peay.

The Illinois redshirt junior forward struggled at the free-throw line, too, making just 3 of 6 of his freebies. Finke's shot was not on.

But the Illini veteran still found a way to produce. He shot 58 percent from the field overall, finding ways to score around the rim — often times after great finds from the Illinois guards.

"For some reason the shots aren't falling right now," Finke said. "Luckily, teammates found me in the right places, and I was able to get on the boards better (Wednesday). I was able to score in the paint and get some easy buckets."

* * * 

Brad Underwood isn't the most patient person. He admits it. Calls it one of his character flaws.

But the Illinois coach has been able to sublimate that impatience when he's had to — like his first seasons coaching new programs.

"I think one of my better traits is that I understand the process and I don't look backward," Underwood said. "I keep looking forward and I try to take it and keep it as simple as I can possibly do, and that's day by day.

"I understand the process. I understand freshmen are freshmen. I understand we haven't had anybody really on that court in those moments and be counted on. ... That's frustrating at times, but I also know it has to happen and you have to learn from that."

* * * 

The Illini are closer to running the type of defense Underwood wants than they are mastering his offensive system.

Much closer, really.

"We're not far off defensively," Underwood said. "Offensively, you can't commit those mistakes (turnovers against Northwestern and Maryland) and beat those types of people. Yet, defensively, because we have been doing some good things we're able to be in games and should have won them to be very honest. We're overcoming sloppiness on the offensive end."

* * * 

Aaron Jordan is the last man standing from Illinois' 2015 recruiting class.

Darius Paul didn't stick in his second run with the team, and both Jalen Coleman-Lands (DePaul) and D.J. Williams (George Washington) transferred after John Groce was fired.

Jordan didn't have any intention of leaving.

"There was never a trial and error period," Jordan said. "Once the new coach was hired it was like, 'I'm here and about to do work.' We've got an opportunity right here."Underwood, at times, subbed Jordan in and out for offensive and defensive purposes, making sure the nation's best three-point shooter was in whenever the Illini had the ball.

As Jordan's defense has improved, those in-and-out situations might become fewer and fewer as Underwood tries to balance Jordan's minutes with his productivity.

"I've got to leave him on the court," Underwood said. "I'd rather have fewer minutes and tremendous productivity than more minutes and less productivity."

Jordan — who didn't score in Wednesday night's win and missed his only two three-point attempts in 24 minutes off the bench — said defense itself can't really be practiced, but the underlying elements can.

"You can practice being in the right spot, but defense is a will," he said. "It's being in the right place for your teammates. If they make a mistake, you can cover up for them. If you make a mistake, they can cover up for you. Really honing in on that, the defensive level, that's where there's an increase."Jordan's early morning workouts at Ubben Basketball Complex have become part of the narrative of the 6-foot-5 junior guard's rise this season. He's starting to have company, too, like freshmen guard Da'Monte Williams.

"Usually people don't ask to work out with me in the morning," said Jordan, who gets in the gym for the extra work between 6:45 and 8 a.m. depending on the schedule for the rest of the day. "He had no hesitation and was like, 'All right, I'll be there.' Now he hits me up every night and we me just get up there, get some shots up and get better."

* * * 

Williams has shown the most this season with his defense and always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. Sunday against Maryland featured Williams using some of his aggressiveness on the offensive end.

"Finally," Underwood said with emphasis. "Da'Monte's a good offensive player. We need him to be an aggressive player on that end — not a guy that's just a facilitator so to speak."

* * * 

Getting more offense from Leron Black has been a season-long goal. The 6-7 forward has shown a knack for getting shots off and shots to fall against what's regularly been bigger defenders.

"Leron might lack in size — in height — but he's done it his whole life," Underwood said. "He's figured out how to get his shot off. You'll notice he shoots some fadeaway stuff, but he gets it really high and has a quick release with it up there."

Black, who scored 16 points on Wednesday night, credited Illinois assistant coach Orlando Antigua.

"He's teaching me a lot of different ways to score the ball — be effective and be efficient when I get the ball down low," Black said. "He's been a great help for me. I've always been smaller for my position. To be able to be successful when you're small, you have to find different ways to score and rebound."

* * * 

Illinois has gone stretches with Te'Jon Lucas running the point and periods with Trent Frazier at the helm of the offense. Lucas played one of his best games against Northwestern. Frazier countered with one of his best against Maryland.

Underwood isn't against continuing to use both guards in that manner moving forward.

"It sure doesn't bother me because I'm going to put whoever's the best player on the court at the time," he said. "I just hope they never have a bad night together. I think that's one of the things we try to build for. When one guy doesn't have his stuff or gets in foul trouble, there's another guy ready to go."

Frazier's speed can be a difference maker for the Illini.

"Trent's been exceptional — not good, exceptional — in practice," Underwood said. "At times he's been as good as anybody we have in terms of dominating practices with his speed. His shiftiness, his speed, changed the momentum of (Sunday's) game. Just look at how many easy baskets he got just with speed. It's not there every night. Opponents won't allow some of that stuff."

* * * 

Frazier had two points wiped out against Maryland by what for all intents and purposes was an uncalled goaltend by the Terrapins. That the play wasn't even reviewable is what had Underwood the most perturbed.

"I've talked with everybody I can talk to about it," Underwood said. "Whatever happens with the officials, it's the rule. They've got their hands cuffed. It's a non-reviewable play on a dead ball situation. We review everything else in this day and age, but that is one that we don't.

"It's not right. We have review to try to get the calls right and make the right calls. It's not their fault. They missed it — or presumably missed it — but officials have a hard job."