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Illinois Basketball “Getting More Comfortable” With Dainja

Dain Dainja was the secret sauce from the bench for Illinois Basketball on Wednesday



Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Basketball “Getting More Comfortable” With Dainja

Dain Dainja was the secret sauce from the bench for Illinois Basketball on Wednesday. He assisted the Fighting Illini to a 105 – 97 win vs the Big Ten’s most-improved team. That team of course is Ben Johnson’s Minnesota Golden Gophers. With 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists of his own, Dain was able to create some loud excitement from fans in Champaign. Of course, not that any more excitement was needed in this game. Especially after assisting in raising all of our blood pressures, in this NBA-like performance.

From booming dunks on one end, to virtually Illinois-only defense played on the other, it was a performance unseen from Dain Dainja in months. The Gophers were a defensive nightmare for The Illini. Cam Christie, Mike Mitchell, and Dawson Garcia went berserk on Illinois defense from behind the arc. Minnesota shot 14-20 from three-point range. That’s a remarkable 70% from deep. Not to mention the fact that Minny shot 36-60 (60%) from the field as well. The Illinois frontcourt had a great offensive performance, but the defense… not hardly. With the help of Illinois single best offensive performance in 30 years, Dainja was able to provide a sliver of defensive spark in closing time. Dainja and Hawkins were able to put the clamps down for a short period. Furthermore, assisting the Illini lock down a late, stressful win.

Underwood on Dainja

In his post-game press conference, Underwood had interesting comments on Dain and his performance vs Minnesota. “I would be very remiss if I did not talk about Dain and his Performance,” says Underwood. “We are starting to get a little more comfortable with Dain in our booty ball action, where there is space, and him creating opportunities to move around where he does not get in the way.” quoted the Illini coach. “He was terrific tonight, and gave us a really physical presence against Payne, who is obviously a very good player.”
 Derek Piper of 24/7 Sports asked Brad what this version of Dain gives this Illinois Basketball team. His answer, “A lot.” Brad continues to say “Yeah, we are going to need Dain. Dain is a really really good player, and you know its been a challenge. Playing all the post up stuff, opening the paint up, were a driving team, we have been very good at at that, we get to the foul line a lot. So, it has been challenging at times in terms of where to play him.”

What It Means

It means another very good depth piece for Illinois, that can help you win games on both ends of the floor in March. At this point, anyone that is able to step up and provide a solid offensive and defensive output, is gravy for the Illini. Though the defensive lulls are still very much apparent, Dain is a spark. Certainly, there was substance to the better defensive efforts when Dainja and Coleman Hawkins were on the floor together. It was one of the few moments in this game that defense seemed to work for this team. If the Illini can begin to piece together halfway decent defensive efforts, watch out. They can beat anyone in the nation when toughness is there on both ends of the floor. Dain becoming more comfortable in Underwoods “booty ball” scheme could bode well for the orange and blue. Another tool in the belt as Illinois Basketball approaches another postseason under Brad Underwood.

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Kirkland is a go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He is the lead Football analyst at Armchair Illini and has been featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, Yard Barker, Autograph, Newsbreak, CBS Sports and more.