Texas A M Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (21) runs on the court in a game last week against Texas A&M at Spokane, Wash. Hachimura, who Illinois coach Brad Underwood calls a "warhorse," and the Zags face the Illini tonight in the first round of the Maui Invitational.

MAUI, Hawaii — Sure, there was a sunset cruise on the second day on the island, but the University of Illinois' basketball team is in Hawaii on a business trip.

The Illini begin a stretch of three games in three days at the Maui Invitational beginning at 10:30 p.m. (CST) Monday against No. 3-ranked Gonzaga.

Win or lose, Illinois (1-1) will play either Arizona or Iowa State on Tuesday before closing the tournament on Wednesday. The only other time the Illini could play three games in three days is the Big Ten Tournament.

"Toughness wins; experience wins," head coach Brad Underwood said. "It’s teaching guys how to hydrate and how to take care of your body and get the proper sleep.

"It’s an incredible venue to play a tournament and it’s not a vacation. It’s a business trip and understanding it’s the reason why we’re here. Yet, it’s an incredible opportunity and we’ll approach it that way and we’ll go out and do what Fighting Illini basketball is all about and be an everyday guy."

No. 1 Duke, No. 9 Auburn, Xavier, and San Diego State round out the field.

On Friday, Underwood said guard Trent Frazier was "day-by-day" after missing the Georgetown game because of a concussion.

Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu leads the Illini with 21.5 points per game and Andres Feliz is right behind, averaging 14.5 points. Both played more minutes and did good things against Georgetown.

“The one thing that Ayo and Dre have to do ... there’s a fine line between getting the ball in the paint, which we stressed. We’re actively trying to do that every possession," Underwood said. "We played good enough offensively. We had five or six shots altered or blocked that led to baskets at the other end. They did a great job of drawing the defense. Now they’ve got to spray it and get (Aaron Jordan) good looks."

With or without Frazier, the Illini have Gonzaga on Monday — the biggest test of the early season.

The Bulldogs (3-0) do a lot of the same things the Illini do: Get in transition and space the floor in the halfcourt.

“This is a team that’s obviously ranked in the top five and they’re ranked there for a reason," Underwood said. "They’re an elite offensive team and it starts with (Josh) Perkins at the point."

Gonzaga has five players who score in double figures, led by Rui Hachimura's 22.7 points per game. Underwood called Hachimura a "warhorse" and likened him to Wisconsin's Ethan Happ for his ability to shot fake.

Zach Norvell Jr. (17.7 ppg) is one of the top shooters in the country, Underwood said, and Brandon Clarke (16 ppg) is a "scary athlete"

"(Hachimura) catches the floor a lot and drives you and gets you off balance with shot fakes," Underwood said. "Clarke is the same way. Then you throw the fact in that they both run like deer — extremely fast — they get two or three baskets a game just in transition because they outrun other people’s bigs."

Filip Petrusev (12 ppg) and Perkins (11 ppg) both average double figures. There's a lot of ways for Gonzaga to score points, both in half-court sets and in transition.

"They’re one of those teams offensively that can run 45 to 50 different sets and create the matchup and create the space that they need," Underwood said.

The invitational is played at the Lahaina Civic Center with a capacity of 2,400. It's unlike other preseason tournaments, which are played in NBA arenas with half-full seats for most of the games.

It's a different environment for the Illini.

“It’s unique because the gym is small," Underwood said. "It’s not an arena; it’s a gym. They clear it after every game. Half the arena is going to be Zags fan and half is going to be Illini fans. It gets rowdy, it’s competitive and fun and really, really loud. It’s a great basketball (venue). It’s one of the things I enjoy about this event."


Load comments