Wed, 30 Sep 2020

No. 24 Illinois aims to extend win streak vs. Northwestern

Field Level Media
18 Jan 2020, 08:19 GMT+10

Illinois has cracked the Top 25 rankings for the first time in more than five years.

Now, the No. 24 Fighting Illini will try to keep forging ahead on Saturday, when they host Northwestern in a Big Ten matchup in Champaign, Ill.

It is Illinois' first time in the Top 25 since Dec. 1, 2014, when it also was ranked No. 24.

"It's a great feeling knowing the hard work is paying off," Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu said, via the Champaign News-Gazette. "But we're not satisfied. At the beginning of the season, we knew what we were capable of, and we still know what we're capable of. We want more.

"We want to keep striving and get better and better and be the best team in the league."

Illinois (12-5, 4-2) will try to increase its winning streak to four games after knocking off Purdue, Wisconsin and Rutgers earlier this month. The Fighting Illini are 10-1 at home as they return to the State Farm Center after being idle since last Saturday.

Northwestern (6-10, 1-5) has lost six of its last seven contests, including a 75-62 defeat against Iowa in its most recent game Tuesday night. The Wildcats are 1-4 on the road and will face their in-state rivals for the first time this season.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins is looking for his players to bounce back after they struggled in the second half vs. Iowa.

"We hit the wall a little bit physically and emotionally," Collins said to reporters. "In the second half, we were gassed. We were hanging around, but we could never find the energy and the fight that's needed to beat a team like Iowa."

Forward Miller Kopp leads the Wildcats by averaging 12.9 points per game. He has scored in double figures in six straight contests.

Three other Northwestern players are averaging in double figures: guard Boo Buie (10.8), guard Pat Spencer (10.4) and center Ryan Young (10.0). Young also is averaging 6.8 rebounds, which is tied for the team lead with forward Pete Nance.

Dosunmu is the Fighting Illini's top scoring threat with 15.5 points per game. Center Kofi Cockburn is not far behind with 14.8 points per game to go along with a team-high 9.5 rebounds.

Andres Feliz also is averaging in double digits for Illinois with 10.6 points per game. Alan Griffin, who is the son of former NBA forward Adrian Griffin, is fourth on the team with 9.3 points per game.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood said his players cannot afford to relax after winning a few games in a row.

"We've given ourselves a fighting chance, but I don't look at the standings," Underwood said. "It's the next game. It's the next practice. You guys are going to hear me say that a bunch. There's no other way to look at it.

"We're only as good as our next game and our next practice. We're fighting and we're doing the right things. At the end, they'll tally them all up, and we'll see where we're at."

After Saturday's contest, Illinois and Northwestern will meet on Feb. 27 in Evanston, Ill.

--Field Level Media

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