Roger Powell, Jr. was a workhorse under boards in the win over Milwaukee with nine rebounds. Forward James Augustine, a shooting star in the second-round win over Nevada, took just three shots against Milwaukee, but had 10 rebounds.
Augustine will not only have to rebound on Saturday, he’s going to have to play terrific defense because Arizona has a 6-foot-11 post Channing Frye, who is an anomaly in college basketball.
Few college basketball teams have a true center like Frye who posts up and actually has more than one move with his back to the basket.
Frye scored 15 in the 79-78 victory over Oklahoma State. He was 7-of-12 shooting from the field for the Wildcats, who made 66 percent of their shots.
The Cowboys tried to use inside muscle to try and stop Frye, but he simply stepped out to 10 feet and sank some big buckets.
Powell, a Pentecostal minister, is going to need help from 7-foot-2 reserve forward Nick Smith, nicknamed Chainsaw.
Jack Ingram, a 6-10 senior off the bench, has to be rugged inside and play physical if the referees allow it. Frye is better than any of the four Illinois interior defenders, but the four of them might have a collective chance to keep him from going for 20.
That’s the big difference in this Illinois team from last season. It’s inside defense has improved and it better be good Saturday or Illinois won’t have a chance to make its short trip to St. Louis for the Final Four.
The Illini at least have a trump card. The Allstate Arena will be sold out Saturday with almost 17,000 fans. Eighty or 90 percent of it will be in Illinois orange and the vibe from the crowd might get Head through a difficult game.
This will not be a game where reserve sophomore guard Richard McBride can fill Head’s role. After all, McBride played just eight minutes and was 0-for-1 from the field in the win over Milwaukee.
And Milwaukee is not Arizona. Head could struggle through a tough game because Illinois had too many weapons for the Panthers.
But if Head is too hurt to chip in his usual 15 on Saturday and Arizona rips the nets like it did against Oklahoma State, it will be difficult for Illinois to continue its magical season.
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