Dec 9, 2012, 9:49 AM EST
For many, seeing No. 13 Illinois included in the nation’s Top 15 wasn’t worth much more than a storyline.
First-year coach John Groce, inheriting a team from now-Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, had led the Illini to a 9-0 record coming into Saturday night’s match-up with Gonzaga. Problem was, the Zags had been beating an opponents by an average of nearly 25 points per game.
This “good story” couldn’t withstand that, especially on the road, right? Wrong.
Illinois guard Brandon Paul tallied 35 points on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting to lead all scorers in the Illini’s 85-74 win Saturday night in Spokane.
“I kept telling everybody, `This is it. We’ve got to take this right now,” Paul said after the game, recalling his team’s mindset at halftime. “We’re not playing well, but we’re still in this game.”
“A lot of people doubted us,” Paul said, as reported by the AP. “We came into the game as underdogs. We love that stuff.”
After a slow start and falling down 8-0 and eventually 12-3 in the opening minutes, Illinois dialed up the defensive pressure. Groce’s team would force 16 turnovers on the game and hold Gonzaga to 28 percent from behind the arc on its way to a win.
Much of the offensive attack centers around what Paul is able to do, complemented in the backcourt by Tracy Abrams (13 points) and D.J. Richardson (10 points), who were the other two Illini players in double figures.
But with everything centered around Paul, it raises a red flag. If he shoots poorly on any given night, is there enough around him to pick up the slack? The Illini might just answer as they go along.
Check out video highlights of the game here, courtesy of Illinois athletics.
- Burning Questions: Who’s poised to surprise (or disappoint) people in the Big Ten? 1
- Texas loses starting point guard to left wrist injury 0
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb 29
- Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise freshman standout? 0
- After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here? 3
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? 5
- No. 4 Duke proves No. 19 Michigan State cannot win at elite level if they keep missing on elite talent 3
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (29)
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? (5)
- No. 1 Kentucky survives Buffalo despite ugly effort offensively (4)
- Pregame Shootaround: No. 14 Iowa State needs to be on upset alert tonight (3)
- Miami upsets No. 8 Florida thanks to the Angel Rodriguez takeover (3)