Illinois coach Bruce Weber did nothing Saturday to hint that freshman forward Jereme Richmond would play when No. 9 Illinois meets No. 1 Kansas today in the NCAA tournament with a berth in the Southwest Region semifinals on the line.
TULSA, Okla. -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber did nothing Saturday to hint that freshman forward Jereme Richmond would play when No. 9 Illinois meets No. 1 Kansas today in the NCAA tournament with a berth in the Southwest Region semifinals on the line.
Quizzed about Richmond's status, Weber wouldn't divulge if a decision had already been made after Richmond dressed but didn't play in the 73-62 win over No. 8 UNLV on Friday. Richmond did practice during the closed-door workout Saturday.
"The situation is a tough one,'' Weber said. "We'll talk about it and make an announcement (Sunday).''
A source said Richmond was involved in a scuffle in the locker room after the loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois said the suspension was for a violation of team rules, and despite the program's first win in the NCAA tournament since 2006, the Illini were dealing with the distraction caused by Richmond.
"When he first came in, he was kind of arrogant,'' Davis said. "He's gotten better. He's grown up and matured. I wouldn't trade him. Jereme is our brother.''
Otherwise, Weber will seek contributions from guards D.J. Richardson and Crandall Head comparable to Friday, and sophomore forward Tyler Griffey would likely play a role in defending the Kansas big men, Weber said. Freshman center Meyers Leonard is battling a sinus infection, the flu and a problem with his balance from inner ear issues.
"Their bench is pretty good,'' Weber said. "Our bench has to rise up and be solid.''
Richardson's minutes tumbled as he suffered through 35-percent shooting in conference play, but he scored 10 points on a 4-for-4 night against UNLV. He buried 3-pointers on consecutive posssessions to chill a second-half run by the Rebels.
"We've been kind of adding a piece back to the team each week because we had some slumps there in January and February,'' said Illini forward Bill Cole. "It looks like we even got D.J. back last night.''
Head logged 15 minutes, finished with four points and one turnover and looked unfazed by the NCAA pressure. He also looked like his brother, Luther, according to Kansas coach Bill Self.
"I called Luther multiple times to try to talk about Crandall,'' Self said. "He never once returned my phone call. All that should tell Illniois people there was no way he was going anywhere else.''
Griffey didn't play meaningful minutes against UNLV because of his inability to guard on the perimeter, Weber said, and the Rebels' small-ball lineup was a bad matchup. The Illini gave Leonard a try even though he's been battling illness all week.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.