Illinois (18-8) at Northwestern (13-12)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, February 17, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Illinois 10-4, Northwestern 8-7. Away Record: Illinois 4-3, Northwestern 3-5. Neutral Record: Illinois 4-1, Northwestern 2-0. Conference Record: Illinois 5-7, Northwestern 4-8. Series Record: Illinois leads, 129-38.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini head to Welsh-Ryan Arena seeking revenge as they get set to square off with the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten Conference matchup.
Northwestern shocked the Fighting Illini on Jan. 17 when it coasted to a 68-54 upset victory over Illinois in Champaign. Reggie Hearn pumped in 20 points to lead the Wildcats as they shot 47.2 percent from the floor including 8-of-15 from beyond the arc. Brandon Paul paced Illinois with 21 points, but the team went just 19-of-49 (38.8 percent) from the field and 3-of-20 from 3-point range. The Fighting Illini still own a sizeable 129-38 all-time series edge over their intrastate rival.
John Groce's Fighting Illini are one of the hottest teams in the country as they defeated Indiana (74-72), Minnesota (57-53) and Purdue (79-59) in their last three games to rise to an 18-8 overall record and 5-7 Big Ten standing. Paul leads the team with 16.7 ppg on 40.5 percent shooting from the field. D.J. Richardson contributes 12.5 ppg, while Nnanna Egwu provides interior toughness with 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per tilt.
Bill Carmody's Wildcats have gone just 2-5 since defeating Illinois. They return home after a two-game road swing that consisted of losses at Iowa (71-57) and Ohio State (69-59). NU has struggled this season as injuries have really hindered its chances of making the long awaited first trip to the Big Dance. NU is 13-12 overall and 4-8 in Big Ten action. The sharpshooting Hearn leads the squad with 14.1 ppg, while sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski provides 10.9 points and 4.1 assists per contest. Jared Swopshire leads the Wildcats on the glass with 6.7 boards a game.
Illinois earned its third win in a row on Wednesday as it coasted past the Boilermakers behind an 18-point showing by Richardson. Tracy Abrams added 13 points and seven assists while Paul finished 1-of-6 from the field before fouling out with a total of three points. Paul's off night did not stop the Fighting Illini, who outrebounded Purdue, 40-29, and converted 14-of-16 at the free-throw line to produce the 20-point rout.
Northwestern's Princeton style offense had Ohio State flustered for a decent portion of the contest on Thursday, as the continuous series of backdoor cuts helped the Wildcats sink 46 percent of their field goal tries. OSU shot a lesser 45.5 percent from the floor, but Deshaun Thomas scored 11 of his 22 points in the final seven minutes to help the Buckeyes generate a game- deciding 12-0 run. NU had just seven scholarship players for the game and lost two of them when Kale Abrahamson and Mike Turner fouled out. Tre Demps led the Cats with 16 points while Hearn chipped in 12.
NU knocked down 11-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc, while it threatened OSU with an upset. The Wildcats will need to continue to hit shots at a high rate as their crowded injury report leaves them very thin at the forward position. The red hot Fighting Illini are going to be out to prove to the NCAA Tournament committee that they would be a good fit for the field of 68, making this a must-win for Illinois.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 70, Northwestern 61
02/17 10:33:52 ET