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Tate: This one wasn't easy on the eyes

CINCINNATI – This isn't the way to enter the Big Ten basketball sea-son.

Coach Bruce Weber's starting lineup came out flat at the outset of both halves Friday night, and troubled Xavier came alive to defeat uninspired Illinois 65-59 before a reported crowd of 13,256 at the U.S. Bank Arena.

UI men's basketball game preview

Here's a look at tonight's UI men's basketball game against Xavier:

Smith trying to play Head's game

CHAMPAIGN – Some social life. Late on a Wednesday, an ice bag wrapped around his left ankle, Jamar Smith pops in a DVD. One of his favorites.

The film stars Luther Head, a millionaire shooting guard with the Houston Rockets whom Smith calls "my older brother." Some guys want to be like Mike. Not Smith. He wants to be like Lu.

Exhaustion cited for Collins' absence

CHICAGO – Jimmy Collins, Illinois-Chicago's longtime men's basketball coach and a former Illinois assistant, will continue his personal leave of absence indefinitely because of "physical and mental" exhaustion.

The 59-year-old Collins took a temporary leave Saturday, and associate head coach Mark Coomes, another former Illinois assistant under Lou Henson, took over.

Wigley plays big in rivalry game

CHAMPAIGN – Theresa Grentz isn't sure why Erin Wigley is playing so well, but she doesn't really mind.

If Wigley continues to play like she did in Illinois' 74-65 overtime victory against Penn State on Thursday, Grentz will have no complaints.

Steely resolve lifts Illini women to OT win

CHAMPAIGN – After a somewhat strange 40 minutes plus one overtime, Illinois exhaled.

But for the four Pennsylvania natives on Theresa Grentz's roster, it was time to celebrate. The reason: a thrilling 74-65 victory against Penn State in the Big Ten opener.

Carter ready to play after extended holiday rest

CHAMPAIGN – Word travels fast in these parts. Never faster than when you're 6-foot-9, sport spiky hair and lead the Illinois basketball team in scoring.

So as Warren Carter tapped on his iPod early Friday, he gained plenty of attention at Willard Airport in Savoy: whispers, pointing, nervous smiles. The big guy kind of stands out, you know.

Illini women look to make a splash in conference

CHAMPAIGN – Bill Parcells – one of Theresa Grentz's favorite people – is partial to a saying that goes, "You are what your record says you are."

The record says the Illinois women's basketball team enters Big Ten play tonight at 10-2. But the lingering question remains: How good are the Illini?

UI women's basketball game preview

Here's a look at tonight's UI women's basketball game against Penn State:

Tate: Next three contests pose great challenge to Illini

CHAMPAIGN – Basketball experts, in analyzing the Illini last October, visualized a treacherous turn into the new year.

Based on returnees, Illinois was projected as an underdog in the next three games against Xavier on Friday in Cincinnati, Michigan next Wednesday in Ann Arbor and Big Ten favorite Ohio State on Jan. 6 at home.