Good Morning, Illini Nation: Leaning into defense

Mar. 23—Sign up for our daily basketball newsletter here

Welcome to "Good Morning, Illini Nation," your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He'll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood's team and college basketball at large:

You can read more Illinois freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn in Saturday's News-Gazette or, you know, right here ...

Gibbs-Lawhorn finding his way

Freshman guard stayed ready in limited role and has his coaches' trust in the postseason

Not everything makes it in the story, of course. Like this tidbit from Gibbs-Lawhorn on playing defense.

"I can't even explain how much I've improved on the defensive end," he told me Friday in the Illini's locker room at CHI Health Center. "Especially in high school, I was never a good defender. When I came to Illinois, I learned that if I wanted to play I was going to have to play defense. I stopped worrying as much about offense and started putting all my focus into defense.

"When I did that, it clicked. I wanted to play defense. Usually I didn't want to play defense, but now I want to guard the best player. I want to be on that end and cause a ruckus on that end."

Gibbs-Lawhorn was upset with himself after Thursday's first-round win against Morehead State because of defensive mistakes he made. There's room for improvement. A sentiment shared by Illinois coach Brad Underwood.

"When he quits fouling, he's a really good defender," Underwood said. "But he plays like a lot of freshmen. He plays with his hands. He's got to move and play with his chest."