PHOENIX – GCU coach Dan Majerle does not intend to talk about victory, but just bringing Illinois to the Grand Canyon Arena on Friday was just that.
Power conference teams will not typically show up in large or medium sized facilities … unless someone like Jerry Colangelo calls.
The former Illinois star and Phoenix Suns boss helped organize Friday's game at GCU, which allowed Illinois to experience a noisy road environment that required some late-season heroes to escape with a win of 83-71 on Friday.
Majerle left with only a few regrets: the defeat, a rebounding deficit (52-26) and the 16 quick points granted by the Lopes.
Oh, and another thing: Eddie Johnson, former star of the Suns, also a former star player from Illinois, was sitting near the field and shooting for the visitors.
"He was here with an Illini hat and I gave him tickets," said Majerle. "How it works?"
Seriously, Majerle said that it was "awesome" that Illinois was ready to play at GCU.
"It's good, man. We always want people to come here, "said Majerle. "It's a great place to play and our fans love it. They like basketball here. So yes, it was great to have Illinois here.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPDJwGJAXks (/ embed)
The coach of Illinois, Brad Underwood, said he is happy to have the chance to play at the GCU.
"It's spectacular. It's spectacular, "said Underwood. "I am a big fan of extremely noisy and the loudest place I have ever been was Allen Fieldhouse. … I mean the strongest, the best. "
In addition, Underwood said that playing against GCU and Arizona on the road to open the season was better than facing easier home teams.
"There is nothing worse than playing with boots and getting a wrong idea of who you are," said Underwood. "We will certainly not do that."
The GCU series was already reserved for his arrival before the 2017-18 season, but Underwood added that he had added the Arizona match as he wanted to take another test on the road on the same trip.
"This is an NCAA tournament type setting," said Underwood, referring to the two games in three days. "Now we have to get on a bus and go for a few hours, it's the next opponent. Sean (Miller) has been great and Arizona is one of the elite programs of the last 30 years.
"We thought it was an excellent opportunity, knowing that we were coming to the West and that Sean was ready to start a series home and home. And as we prepare to play two Big Ten games in December, it gives us the opportunity to prepare our guys. While we are going to open with Maryland on the road, it will not be the first time and we will not be in shock. "
The Illini had their scary moments during the match, however. Illinois led 41-37 at halftime and, despite a 15-point lead in the second half, allowed the Lopes to return in the game at the end.
GCU reduced the score to 71-67 with just a little over four minutes before Illinois ended up appeasing the sold-out crowd two minutes later when freshman Kofi Cockburn imposed himself for give Illinois an advance of 77-67.
Cockburn finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds, while Andres Feliz scored 21 points on 7 out of 14 shots, with strength, confidence and speed.
"Andres on the stretch was sensational," said Underwood.
Feliz, Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmo, who could have made an offer for the NBA draft last spring, are joining forces this season for one of the Big Ten's best backcourts and will be a major challenge for Arizona on Sunday.
Once again, Chase Jeter and Zeke Nnaji will play against Cockburn, especially after playing against undersized NAU players on Wednesday.
Cockburn scored 23 of 8 points for 12 shots on the field – and 13 homers for the free throw line, seven of them. As Nnaji was opposed to the UAE, Cockburn was at the center of the Illinois bombings because of the lack of comparable size among the Lopes.
"What I'm passionate about at Kofi is that he has a lot more to learn and a lot to gain in terms of development," Underwood said. "It's an awesome figure and we have to be able to use it and take advantage of it. I thought we had done it tonight. It was our first game plan. "
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