ST. LOUIS — The Illinois men’s basketball team comes into Wednesday night’s Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri with a considerable chip on its shoulder.
On Saturday, the team found itself on the wrong end of one of this year’s biggest college basketball upsets, losing to Illinois-Chicago 57-54 at the United Center in Chicago. Before the loss, Illinois was ranked No. 12, and held a 10-1 record with its only loss coming in overtime against Texas.
No. 9 Missouri (10-1)
vs. No. 21 Illinois (10-2)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Scottrade Center in St. Louis
Radio: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said the loss didn’t necessarily surprise him, noting a string of poor practices dating back as far back as two games before Saturday’s game.
“I was alarmed by what our energy was at Oakland and Northern Colorado before the game,” Weber said.
Illinois won its games against Oakland and Northern Colorado, but Weber said his team’s intensity in practice wasn’t there, and the effects were beginning to carry over into games.
“I kept telling them we’re slipping, we’re slipping,” he said.
“It’s kind of like your dad telling you stuff, and you think he’s full of it. And all of a sudden, five to seven years later you figure, man he actually knew what the heck was going on.”
It didn’t take Weber’s team nearly that long for its problems to materialize, but after the loss to the school from the same state, No. 21 Illinois was the recipient of a reality check.
“I think we were kind of high. It brought us down to reality that we can lose,” Illinois senior guard Demetri McCamey said.
Weber said his team’s practices this week were improved, and that he has been using different methods to mimic the speed and pressure Missouri is known for. Throughout the week, Illinois added an extra defender in drills and scrimmages. On Tuesday, the team ran a drill where five players played defense while four offensive players passed the ball without dribbling.
“They had to keep passing it, moving the ball, getting it to the open guy. We try to make it harder in practice than it might even be in the game,” Weber said.
McCamey said the techniques were working.
“Sometimes with Mizzou, when they pressure they’re going all crazy and wild it seems like six people anyway. So, it helps us prepare for a game-like situation,” McCamey said.
More important than handling Missouri’s pressure, however, will be whether Illinois bounces back after such a shocking upset.
Missouri guard Marcus Denmon said he has no doubt the Illini will be ready to prove themselves.
“I know how all losses feel. I’m sure they felt terrible,” Denmon said.
“All you can do is get back and try to get that next game, and we’re that next game, so we’re really going to have to come out focused.”
As McCamey stood in a tunnel of the Scottrade Center addressing reporters’ questions, the topic of Saturday’s loss seemed to hit a nerve.
“Everybody knows we should have won that game. We can’t go back in the past,” McCamey said.
And while Illinois can’t change the past, Wednesday offers a chance at redemption. And judging from McCamey's demeanor, a low intensity level will not be an issue.