CHAMPAIGN — On a night when everything was clicking for Illinois’ offense against Minnesota in their 94-63 win on Saturday, it was completely appropriate for senior Trent Frazier to connect on a half-court shot before the halftime buzzer sounded.
“Every day in practice before we huddle it in, Trent catches the ball from half court and shoots it, make or miss, we end practice like that. When I saw it out of his hands, I knew that was cash,” Ayo Dosunmu said.
Just like kids in the driveway dreaming of playing college basketball someday, Frazier creates the game scenario in his head before launching his shot.
“I like to practice the hardest shots at the start of practice and at the end I have an imaginary clock in my head. There is one second left and I’ll throw it with one hand from 94 feet,” Frazier said. “One went in tonight and it is exciting to see one of those go in.”
Frazier had 15 points and hit on three of his four 3-point attempts against Minnesota. His defense on Gophers leading scorer Marcus Carr resulted in just 12 points and a 3-for-11 shooting night.
“I’m not worried about Trent guarding opposing guards because I see what he does every day in practice,” Dosunmu said. “When he’s on me, I really got to dig deep too to get around him. Trent doesn’t care about offense. What he does offensively for us is great, but at the end of the day, he always speaks defensively.
“That’s why I’m proud of him that he’s able to make shots like that half-court shot. The basketball gods reward that when you take pride on the defensive end. When you really take pride in winning, you are going to be rewarded.”
Frazier came away with a career-high six steals, the most by an Illini player since Luther Head had six on Jan. 20, 2005, against No. 23 Iowa.
“Trent was great, he was phenomenal. There’s only five or six guaranteed more games left and after that, every game is single elimination. We’ve got to enjoy it and play to our fullest,” Dosunmu said. “He’s been doing a great job of that and being in the gym and working on his craft. I’m very proud to see his hard work pay off.”
For Frazier, the Minnesota game was a high point for the Illini.
“I think this is the best we have played this year, especially on the road,” Frazier said. “It is always harder going to another arena and to win by 30, especially. I think as a team, we are playing every game like we are in the tournament.”
Ayo’s 2nd triple-double
It was 20 years between Sergio McClain recording a triple-double in 2001 and Dosunmu getting the Illini’s next one back on Feb. 6.
Illinois’ Big Ten player of the year candidate needed just two weeks to record the program’s fourth triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) on Saturday. He became the first Illinois player with multiple triple-doubles in their career and it was also the first Illini triple-double on the road. But unlike his first one, Dosunmu didn’t predict his Minnesota triple-double.
“I’m not psychic. I didn’t call this one, I just went out there and had fun. I was in a rhythm and doing whatever it takes,” Dosunmu said. “The coaches get on me a lot. I wish there was a mic and (so you could) really see how my coaches get on me so much in practice about rebounding and making the right read. I go out and try to take the challenge each and every game.”
With the game firmly in hand, Underwood told Dosunmu when he was coming out so that if he wanted to make a run at another triple-double, he could. His 10th rebound came with 2:07 to play.
“The one thing about Coach Underwood is that he always coaches until the end. Whether it’s in practice and there have been games where if someone messes up at the end of the game, he screams the same way,” Dosunmu said. “He told me when I was coming out earlier that my night was going to be over at about the 3:30 mark so I had to go out there and play and have fun.”
It’s not hyperbole to call Dosunmu’s last four games historic. He has averaged 21 points, 8.3 assists and 6.8 rebounds in the Illini’s last four wins, and he is the first NCAA player in the last 25 seasons to reach those four marks in a four-game span.
Dosunmu joins Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Dennis Smith (N.C. State), Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) and Draymond Green (Michigan State) as major conference players with multiple triple-doubles in one season since 2010.
It is all the more impressive when limiting Dosunmu is at the center of every opponent’s game plan.
“I love it and I think it is a compliment. That’s the biggest compliment getting a two-on-one. I’m just playing my game and trying to do whatever it takes to win,” he said.
Illinois shot a season-best 86.7% (13-for-15) from the free-throw line on Saturday. Illinois defeated Minnesota by 27 (92-65) on Dec. 15 and its 31-point victory Saturday made the +58 scoring margin against the Gophers the largest two-game regular-season series total since the series began in 1906.
Illinois’ 12-3 conference record is its best through 15 games since the 2005 Big Ten championship squad went 15-1.
Illinois has won five consecutive road games during Big Ten play — at Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, Nebraska and Minnesota — which is the best stretch since a school record 13-game Big Ten road winning streak from Feb. 3, 2004, through Feb. 19, 2005.