CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Freshman guard Rob Phinisee dribbled with his left hand then quickly crossed over to his right, with Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier defending him. Phinisee couldn’t initially drive past Frazier but that changed within a second.
Phinisee turned his back to Frazier and kept the ball in his right hand. Then he made it look like he was about to pass to the cutting sophomore forward Justin Smith in the paint before instantly switching to his left hand, faking out the Fighting Illini defense.
The hesitation move allowed Phinisee to get around Frazier and convert on an open layup in the second half. The layup accounted for two of Phinisee’s career-high 17 points as he helped lead IU to a 92-74 win Thursday night over Illinois.
The 17 points was his third double-digit scoring output in the past four games, and Phinisee hasn’t turned the ball over more than once in a game since Jan. 30th against Rutgers.
“I feel like my confidence is back,” Phinisee said.
As IU scored 52 points in the paint, IU Coach Archie Miller credited Phinisee’s ability to keep his dribble alive and make the right decision. For the entirety of the 40 minutes, there wasn’t a moment that Phinisee tried to force a play or allowed Illinois to speed him up.
When the Fighting Illini pressured him in the back court and tried to get him to pick up his dribble, Phinisee always found the open man or took it to the paint himself for one of his four layups.
The game was controlled through his hand, and Phinisee never allowed Illinois to change that.
“He doesn’t care for the highlight play,” Miller said. “He’s a true point guard in the sense that he takes care of the ball, he tries to run your team."
Against then-No. 6 Michigan State last weekend, it was Phinisee who came up with a crucial defensive stop against potentially the Big Ten Player of the Year in Cassius Winston.
Against Illinois, it was Phinisee’s scoring and ball control that has Miller believing his point guard is back to being the player he was before his concussion earlier this season.
“I think now as the season is finishing here, you’re starting to see the guy that was in the beginning of the season making a lot of plays for us early,” Miller said. “He’s got himself back which is a key for our late run here.”
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