Posted on December 7, 2012 at 3:11 PM
No. 13/14 Illinois (9-0) visits No. 10 Gonzaga (9-0) Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ESPN2 will televise the game.
The Stats – First year head coach John Groce has the Fighting Illini clicking early. Like GU, Illinois has put up gaudy offensive numbers in its first nine games. They are averaging 78.7 points (28th in the nation as of Dec. 2nd), hitting a NCAA best 11.3 threes on .419 shooting from deep (12th in the nation). They made 10 or more three-pointers in each of their first six games. It’s a dramatic improvement on figures that were well in the bottom half of the national rankings by the end of last year. Scoring should be a pretty regular occurrence in Saturday’s game, with GU entering the week tops in field goal percentage (53.3) and fifth in points per game (85.3).
The Stars – Illinois is experienced and balanced, having returned six of their top eight players and four starters. Groce has started the same five guys in all nine games, with four averaging double-digits. Guiding the way is senior guard Brandon Paul. He’s tops in the team at 17.8 points per game, and among their best rebounders at 4.4/game. Paul has reached 20+ points four times in their nine games. He and 2nd leading scorer D.J. Richardon (12.3/game) are primarily responsible for their shooting from deep. They account for 48 of their 96 makes. Richardson finished with 19 points in last year’s meeting, which matches Elias Harris’ team-leading total in that game. Harris has set the tone offensively for GU in the last two weeks. Against Clemson he was tied with Kelly Olynyk as their top scorer. In four of the five games he’s played in since, he’s held the top honor. Starting with the Oklahoma game Harris has averaged 20.5 points on 65.9 percent shooting.
The Storylines – For the second straight year these teams meet with spotless records. Last season the Illini were 7-0 heading into the meeting, with GU sporting a 5-0 record. Illinois grabbed an 82-75 win in Champaign, their second consecutive victory in the series. The Zags have won just one of the programs’ showdowns – an 85-83 OT victory at the United Center in 2010. Their Battle in Seattle clash the following season was their only game played in Washington. That changes when the Illini make their first appearance at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Illinois will also try and snap a streak of five straight losses to ranked opponents, in both teams’ first meeting of the season against another Top-25 squad.