Illinois basketball will host their first true test as ACC opponent Notre Dame travels to the State Farm Center on Monday night to kick off the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Last season, No. 2 Illinois went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and defeated Duke 83-68 in Coach K's house. This season, the Irish come to Champaign hoping to play spoiler against an injury-plagued Illini roster.
Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo, and Jacob Grandison each missed Friday's contest, leading to an upset scare from UT Rio Grande Valley. Illinois pulled out the win, 94-85, behind Kofi Cockburn's career-high 38 points. He added 10 rebounds for his second straight game with a double-double, the 30th of his career, which moved him into seventh place all-time in Illinois basketball history.
Illinois needed every point as they only led by two at halftime. Clearly, the Illini struggled without their veteran guards. Brad Underwood spoke to the media today about Trent Frazier's status, saying he's day-to-day without actually saying it. He also added the flu is going around the locker room and added Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk is now out for Monday's game. The statuses of Curbelo and Grandison are still unknown.
All in all, the Illini will need another big performance from Cockburn and sharpshooter Alfonso Plummer, who scored 30 points, including 18 points from the perimeter on Friday night.
Illini Land Baylor Transfer
In other Illini news, Baylor transfer Dain Dainja committed to Illinois Saturday.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound center was at the game Friday night. The Chicago native must have liked what he saw, especially with how Illinois used Cockburn on offense.
Dainja already has a relationship with Underwood and first-year assistant coach Tim Anderson. Illinois recruited him before he eventually chose Baylor. Anderson worked with him individually six to seven years ago. Dainja was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2020. ESPN ranked him as high as No. 52.
“When I was 13-14 years old I used to train in Chicago,” Dainja said. “I went to the Tony Allen Camp, and after that I started working with Tim with my older brother. Seeing him on the Illinois staff is real cool. We’ve got that connection. I know how hard those workouts were with me and Tim, and I know I can get better working with somebody like him. He’s trained lots of professionals — even one of my favorites, Anthony Davis. Just that right there is cool.”
It's not a guarantee, but Dainja should be a good transition for Illinois with Cockburn likely off to the NBA next season.