The Illini are back in Atlanta and set to take on the Auburn Tigers at Phillips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks. After playing Georgia Tech on Tuesday, the Illini were home for just a couple of days before returning to Georgia for another non-conference matchup.
This is a key game for both teams, as both are coming off losses. Auburn was blown out at Iowa State, while Illinois blew a 12 point lead late in falling to Georgia Tech.
Here are our keys to the game and a pick.
Setting the stage
Illinois (7-1) vs. Auburn (4-2)
Dec. 8, 2013 // 2 p.m. CST/3 p.m. EST // Atlanta, Ga. // Philips Arena (18,818)
TV: Fox Sports South / Fox Sports Midwest - Dave Baker (Play-By-Play), Larry Conley
Radio: Fighting Illini Sports Network - Brian Barnhart (Play-By-Play), Jerry Hester (Analyst)
Satellite Radio: Sirius - 91, XM - 91
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* One year ago….12th-ranked Illinois snapped a three-game losing streak at Chicago's United Center, defeating Auburn by the score of 81-79 on Dec. 29 to conclude non-conference play with a record of 13-1. Illinois entered the game averaging an NCAA-best 9.8 three-pointers per game, but made just four treys against the Tigers. Instead, the Illini were aggressive driving to the basket and drawing fouls. That resulted in 27 points at the foul line on 40 attempts, the most free throw attempts by the UI since 2008.
Illinois forced 20 Auburn turnovers and turned that into a 19-6 advantage in points-off-turnovers. That helped the Illini overcome a 39-31 rebounding deficit and 24-7 deficit in second chance points. Tracy Abrams led the way with career highs of 27 points and eight rebounds to go along with game highs of five assists and four steals. Brandon Paul also scored in double figures, finishing with 13 points. Two days after his performance against the Tigers, Abrams was named Big Ten Player of the Week.
* The Tigers will be fired up, or hung over, after their football team earned the SEC title and a probable spot in the BCS national title game last night in the same city.
* Junior transfer Rayvonte Rice is the first Illini newcomer to score in double figures in each of his first eight games since Kiwane Garris did so in his first 10 games as a freshman in 1993-94
Keys to the game
1. Foul trouble - Illinois once again faces a team that likes to get to the line, as Auburn gets almost 30% of their points from the free throw line. Although Illinois hasn't fouled a lot this season, they have had a lot of foul trouble, as Egwu and others seem to find a way to get a second foul and some bench time. Illinois needs to play smart and not get into trouble early.
2.Execution - John Groce was livid following the loss in Atlanta, and called the execution 'pathetic'. And it was. You can bet that was a point of emphasis in practice this week, and the Illini need to step it up following a couple of lackluster performances in their past 2 games. Get the shots you want to get, and if you miss them, which will happen, you can live with it. Take bad shots and don't run the plays called? Not good.
3. The three point shot - Auburn is one of the worst teams at defending the 3 point shot. Teams shoot 40% from 3 against them, and teams shoot a lot of them because they are open. It's a dice roll that hasn't been working out for them thus far. The problem is that Illinois isn't a great 3 point shooting team. The good news for Illinois is that Auburn isn't a good 3 point shooting team either, shooting just 25% from deep coming in. You just have a feeling that the 3 point shot will be big.
Illinois is a better team than Auburn, but they were a better team than Georgia Tech too. This time, John Groce has their attention following the lack of execution against the Yellow Jackets and Illinois is much more focused and finishes this one out, 71-61 to right the ship a little bit.