Top offenses go head-to-head as UConn men meet Illinois for chance at Final Four; How to watch

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BOSTON – Illinois is not intimidated by top-seeded UConn, which is looking for its 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament win, but rather impressed.

After the Illini took down 2-seed Iowa State on Thursday night, center Coleman Hawkins said he, personally, has a “higher level of respect” for the Huskies’ program.

Point guard Marcus Domask agreed: “I have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve done. We’ve played a lot of college basketball (and) played a lot of teams that are supposed to be us.”

“It’s not overly complicated. They are who they are, we are who we are,” coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s a quick turn. Danny and his staff do an incredible job offensively, they run a lot of sets. Nothing that we haven’t seen throughout the course of Big Ten play and postseason.”

Illinois, the Big Ten Tournament champion, has won its last seven games and 10 of its last 11 with the only loss in that stretch coming against No. 2 overall seed Purdue, 77-71. The 3-seed Illini rolled over 14-seed Morehead State and 11-seed Duquesne in the first and second rounds before holding off Iowa State in a gritty game in the Sweet 16 Thursday night.

UConn, the Big East regular-season and tournament champion, won its ninth-consecutive NCAA Tournament game and tied the all-time record set by Michigan State from 2000-01 with a 30-point blowout of 5-seed San Diego State.

“I haven’t watched their tournament run very much. I’ve watched a lot of games. Honestly, I watched the exciting games but they’ve been blowing out teams, so I haven’t really followed much attention to them,” said Domask, a graduate transfer from Southern Illinois. “We’ll be watching a lot of film. We have watched a lot of film. So we’ll have a good understanding for what they do.”

Saturday’s matchup will be a battle between the nation’s top two offenses, according to KenPom. The two programs have flip-flopped as the No. 1 and 2 most efficient in the nation since the NCAA Tournament began.

“Illinois is one of the best teams in the country,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We expect a 40-minute war going into every game that we go into. I know you all saw the end of that clip when I came into the locker room and said, ‘We keep blowing these teams out.’ Well, they missed the first part of that which was, ‘Man, I don’t know how we’re blowing these teams out in this setting. You guys are special.’”

Illinois, averaging 84.2 points per game, hasn’t been blown out. In fact, the Illini haven’t lost a single game by double-digits this season.

Star Terrance Shannon Jr. leads the way offensively, averaging 23.5 points per game in his 31 appearances this season. He was reinstated in late January after missing six games due to an indefinite suspension over a rape charge in December, for an alleged incident that happened three months prior. He has maintained his innocence and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 10.

Domask averages 15.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists and Hawkins, a 6-foot-10 stretch-five, averages 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds while attempting more than six 3-pointers per game, where he’s made a career-best 37.9%.

The difference is UConn’s defense is also elite, No. 6 on KenPom where the Illini rank 84th, allowing 73.2 points per game.

“I think we’ve made it look easy in these past two tournaments, but it’s hard,” Hurley said. “We do the hard things really, really well, like the defense, the rebounding, the way that we play at the offensive end of the court.”

UConn is 6-6 all-time in the Elite Eight.

What to know

Site: TD Garden, Boston

Time: 6:09 p.m.

Series: UConn leads, 2-1

Last meeting: Dec. 27, 1994 – UConn 71, Illinois 56

Records: 1-seed UConn: 34-3, 3-seed Illinois: 29-8

TV: TBS – Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner, Stan Van Gundy and Andy Katz

Radio: UConn Sports Network on FOX Sports 97.9 – Mike Crispino and Wayne Norman

Pregame reading:

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