Peeking? Not IU but Illini looking beyond game

Peeking? Not IU but Illini looking beyond game

by Bob Hammel, H-T Sports Editor

February 13, 1976

From the February 13, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

The word got out in Champaign four weeks ago that new Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson was taking such a low-key approach to his Indiana game on Saturday that he was spending some of his practice time working on Ohio State – his opponent the following Monday.

It was true then, Henson says, and it’s true again this week when the situation is identical.

“We’re trying to approach this game just like we did the last time,” said Henson, whose Illini will arrive in town late this afternoon for their 4:05 p.m. game with IU Saturday (Ch. 4).

“We want to go out and play well. Our chances of beating Indiana at Bloomington are not very good, we know that. There’s another game we think we have a much better chance of winning than Indiana.

“Some people may think we’re trying to lull Indiana to sleep saying things like that, but that’s not the case. They can be half-asleep and still beat the teams most of us have.”

Henson says his goal is to avoid the sort of post-Indiana syndrome that he feels has hurt a couple of teams that scared the Hoosiers earlier – Ohio State, in the Big Ten opener, and Purdue two days after Indiana’s 83-55 victory at Champaign in January.

“I really think it hurt Purdue,” he said. The Boilermakers started a four-game losing streak with their 71-67 loss at Indiana. “That’s what we want to guard against.”

Michigan came back from its overtime disappointment here last weekend to win easily at Ohio State, tending to refute the Henson theory.

“Maybe they were mad and got fired up,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have surprised me if Ohio State had beaten them.”

From the February 13, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

Henson emphasized that his Illini won’t come to Bloomington unprepared. “On some weekends, we prepare strictly for the first team and take our chances on the second one,” he said. “But both of these teams (Indiana and Ohio State) run quite a bit of screen situations, so that’s one thing we’ve been particularly concentrating on this week in getting ready for both games.”

Illinois has won four of its last five games to climb to 6-6 in the Big Ten and 13-8 overall – one more victory needed in the last six games to produce an overall winning season.

Three of the four victories, including a jinx-breaker against Purdue, came after the Illini lost the man considered their best player – guard Nate Williams out with a dislocated knee bone.

There has been some speculation that the loss of Williams produced a tighter Illini offense, but Henson doesn’t see things that way – while admitting to improved play.

“I don’t think we pick up anything by losing Nate,” he said, “because he’s good at everything. There’s no question it hurts us without him.

“But I believe the other players are getting better. We were down against Purdue 14-5 when he went out, and then we went out and won that thing. It was a great effort on the part of the players. It helped them and it kinda picked up the coaching staff a little bit too.

“We’re really happy because I felt at the beginning we might have a pretty fair year, but I didn’t anticipate beating the people we have. New Mexico is a real fine team. Arizona was ranked 18th when we played them, Michigan was ranked 14th and we beat them.

“And the truth is we played an excellent game at Wisconsin. After the way Indiana beat them, people might not think our margin (70-59) means much, but we did play well. We shot 65 percent the second half and our defense was really good.”

The man who has replaced Williams in the Illinois lineup is 6-4 Ricky Leighty – “a good, sound player … hard-nosed … coming along and improving,” Henson said. Leighty scored in double figures in both victories last weekend.

Indiana, which will be going for its eighth straight victory over the Illini in the Bob Knight coaching years, took a 48-47 lead in the all-time series with its 83-55 victory at Champaign in January.

The Indiana front line in that game combined for 60 points – 27 by Scott May, 17 by Tom Abernethy and 16 by Kent Benson. Their success may mean the return of Abernethy to the starting lineup, after Wayne Radford took his place against Michigan State Monday night.

However, if Abernethy returns, Radford still could pop up in the lineup after a strong performance the last three times out. He and Jim Wisman have been providing Hoosier depth in recent games and Knight probably will go with a seven-man approach Saturday – usual starting guards Quinn Buckner and Bob Wilkerson the other two.