Road game against a top 25 team the first week of the season? Yeah, this was going to be a tough one for Illinois. A slew of turnovers didn’t help the Illini’s cause either, with the Wildcats making them play by turning those into easy points at the other end.
What it means
This is a more talented Illinois team than a year ago. The problem Sunday night, though, was Arizona could easily claim the same. The Illini made too many mistakes — the turnovers and a lot of easy shots for the Wildcats — to take down a ranked team on its home court.
Illinois (2-1) has all of this coming week off. Won’t play again until Nov. 18 at home against Hawaii. That leaves plenty of time to process the good and the bad from the opening week of the season. There was plenty of both.
Player of the game | Arizona guard Nico Mannion
The Wildcats’ freshman showed why he’s considered a lottery pick come next June’s NBA draft. Mannion led Arizona with a game-high 23 points to go with nine assists and four rebounds. Most telling, though, was what happened to the Wildcats when he went to the bench with two fouls in the first half and stayed there awhile. Arizona simply wasn’t the same offensively.
The Illini’s guard trio of Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Andres Feliz finished with 42 points combined and shot 47 percent doing so. They also had 14 turnovers as a group, with Feliz having the distinction of leading the team with seven. Not being able to slow down the Wildcats — Josh Green had 20 points to pair with Mannion — didn’t help.
This wasn’t going to be the same type of experience for the Illini bigs as they had Friday at Grand Canyon. Mostly because the Wildcats had front court depth to throw at Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. While Cockburn still managed nine points and seven rebounds, Bezhanishvili struggled with foul trouble all game, finished with just six points and a single rebound and fouled out late in the second half in a personal foul/frustration technical combination.
Bench production has been an issue for the Illini this season, and that didn’t change against the Wildcats. Alan Griffin had half of the reserves’ scoring with six points and more than half of their rebounds with three. Arizona’s bench wasn’t substantially more productive, but Max Hazzard’s 10 points in 15 minutes gave the Wildcats a fourth double-digit scorer.
Turning the ball over 22 times makes winning any game difficult even if the Illini were able to do so in their first two games of the season facing similar ball security issues. Here’s the thing, though. Doing so against a top 25 team with some legitimate future NBA talent is basically a non-starter and how a close game at halftime devolved in the final 12 1/2 minutes Sunday night Tucson.