Rediscovering their mojo
Flames roll in warmup for Kentucky
By Mike Pankow
November 24, 2017
With No. 8 Kentucky in their sights this weekend, the Flames rediscovered their bounce Wednesday night with a red-hot performance in an exhibition contest against Olivet Nazarene at the UIC Pavilion.
The Flames showed elite offensive precision as they shot 69.4 percent, missing just eight of 42 2-point shots all night, in a 107-83 laugher.
UIC players gave thanks to each other, racking up 33 assists on 43 field goals while outrebounding the undersized Tigers 35-21. The NAIA school, best known for hosting Bears training camp, was simply undersized and lacked the athleticism of its Division I opponent.
Wednesday’s tilt was about the Flames trying to figure out who they are and what they needed to work on.
“It’s such a different team to play, because they play five guards and they run good stuff,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “We didn’t spend any time preparing (specifically) for them, because it was more about us coming out and figuring things out on our own.
“We’re continuing to work on our 1-3-1 defense and (ONU) showed us some things that we have to figure out. I was more concerned about the rebounding, which we did a better job of tonight. And we shared the basketball.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Ottey scored 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting to lead the Flames, but he found that even in a convincing victory the Flames still gave plenty of work to do before heading to Lexington.
The Flames did permit the Tigers to shoot 50.7 percent and ONU did fool UIC’s defense on some backdoor plays.
“We have the mind-set that we still have a lot of things to work on,” Ottey said.
Senior center Tai Odiase had a field day inside, scoring 21 points on 9-for-10 from the field. Redshirt sophomore guard Dominique Matthews scored 13 points while freshman forward Michael Diggins took advantage of extended minutes by registering 13 points and six assists off the bench. Fellow freshman forward Jacob Wiley added nine points.
“Tonight was about getting some of the young guys some minutes,” McClain said. “I thought Michael and Jacob really got a lot of out of this game. I never had any intention of playing the main guys many minutes. When I (scheduled) this game, I knew we had a long week here, so it was a good way to have something different. The young guys got a lot out of it.”
Now UIC will turn its attention to Kentucky and its roster of potential NBA lottery picks and McDonald’s All-Americans. It will be the Flames’ first game against a ranked opponent in nearly seven seasons – the last being the famous 57-54 victory over No. 12 Illinois at the United Center on Dec. 18, 2010.
The Wildcats (5-1) haven’t been super dominant this season with three of their wins coming by 10 points or fewer. The loss came against Kansas, 65-61, at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
Six-foot-nine freshman forward Kevin Knox, the son of a former Florida State wide receiver, leads Kentucky with 14.7 points per game and two others (6-5 freshman guard Hamidou Diallo and 6-0 freshman Quade Green) also average double figures.
“They are who they are,” McClain said. “They’ve got three lottery picks. They’ve got players all over the court. I knew we were facing a tough task. They’re a talented group of players. You’ve got to go in with the right attitude, the belief that you (belong) on that court and if you take care of the basketball, you’ll have the opportunity (to compete).”
The players are starting to feel the excitement of facing one of college basketball’s traditional powers.
“It’s going to fun,” Ottey said. “We just have to go out there and play our game, have fun and play hard.”
Diggins added: “This is going to be a really good experience for our team moving forward.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: Superstar sophomore Dikembe Dixson had a quiet night, scoring six points on 2-for-3 shooting in just 18 minutes of play. … Sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson had eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and handed out 13 assists in 21 minutes. … Freshman forward Jordan Blount stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. ... The Flames last played Olivet Nazarene during the 1995-96 season, only that was a regular-season contest that UIC won 99-78 on Nov. 28, 1995. In that game, Flames great Mark Miller set the UIC Pavilion record with eight steals. … Senior backup center Clint Robinson was held out as a precaution because of a minor leg injury he suffered before the Fort Wayne game. … Freshman guard Ralph Bissainthe, who likely will be redshirted, would've been eligible to play in the exhibition, but couldn't due to an eye infection.