The eighth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers will attempt to keep their perfect record both on the road and in Big Ten Conference play in tact, as they pull into Champaign for Wednesday night's clash with the 12th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.
Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers are a near-perfect 14-1 on the season, and they are in the midst of a 10-game winning streak, which is their longest since running off 12 straight during the 2008-09 campaign. Minnesota recently improved to 2-0 in conference by posting a 69-51 victory over visiting Northwestern, moving to 10-0 at home in the process.
Illinois is having a terrific season as well, as first-year head coach John Groce has his team out to a 14-2 record. The Illini had won its first 12 games, but an 82-73 loss to rival Missouri a few days before Christmas started the team on a minor slide that saw it lose two of three, the second of which was at Purdue (68-61) in the Big Ten opener. Groce rallied his troops though, and they routed previously eighth-ranked Ohio State at home last Saturday, 74-55.
Illinois leads the all-time series with Minnesota, 116-63, but the teams split a pair of meetings last season, with both extending beyond regulation, and the home team prevailing each time.
Austin Hollins scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, hitting five 3- pointers along the way, to lead Minnesota to its recent win over Northwestern. He was the only Golden Gopher to score in double figures, as the team shot 47.9 percent from the field while holding the Wildcats to 38.5 percent. Both teams struggled in the opening half, combining for just 31 points, with NU shooting 27.8 percent in the period and UM 33.3 percent. Minnesota wound up dominating the boards, 47-20, with Trevor Mbakwe accounting for 11 rebounds. Andre Hollins (13.1 ppg, 3.5 apg), Rodney Williams (12.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 21 blocks) and Austin Hollins (11.1 ppg) are the team's only double-digit scorers on the season, although Joe Coleman (9.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Mbakwe (8.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) could join them at some point. The team as a whole is netting 75.5 ppg while yielding just 59.2 ppg, and it is shooting a collective 46.9 percent from the floor while the opposition checks in at 38.1 percent. A +11.1 rebounding advantage has certainly helped matters.
Brandon Paul poured in 19 points, Nnanna Egwu tallied 16, Tracy Abrams 13 and Joseph Bertrand 12 as Illinois had its way with visiting Ohio State over the weekend. The Buckeyes were successful on only 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts, while the Illini converted 48.3 percent of theirs. Both teams were rather careless with the basketball, combining for 34 turnovers, but UI used a 14-5 edge in second-chance points to keep OSU at bay. Paul continues to lead the team in just about every major statistical category, posting averages of 18.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while his 56 assists are just a shade above Abrams (12.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 55 helpers). D.J. Richardson (10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) rounds out the double-digit scorers for an Illinois team that nets 75.8 ppg in hitting 36.5 percent of its 3-point attempts while forcing more than 15 turnovers per outing.