Comes up big for the second straight game.

 

One thing's for sure. Illinois redshirt sophomore guard Joe Bertrand wasn't a one-hit wonder.

Bertand scored all but two of his career-high 19 points in the second half to rally the Illinois from a double-digit deficit in the Braggin' Rights loss to Missouri while making all nine of his shots, and he sank his first four attempts and scored 13 in the 81-72 double-overtime win over Minnesota in the Big Ten Conference basketball opener Tuesday.

In the process, Bertrand made a strong case for a starting spot when Illinois (12-2 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) plays at Purdue Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN2).

"I'm happy for him,'' said Illini coach Bruce Weber. "Now you go to Purdue and small ball.''

If playing four guards and one big man is the plan, the 6-foot-5 Bertrand is the obvious option. While power forward Tyler Griffey struggled defensively against athletic, mobile matchups and hasn't become a threat offensively, Weber may have found something in Bertrand, who was 6 of 10 from the field in 31 minutes against the Gophers.

"Joe stayed to what he can do well, the straight drives to the basket and the little pullups,'' Weber said. "You have to feel good for the kid. He's been very patient.

"He definitely adds to our team. We're better offensively because you've got more weapons to get to the basket.''

While Weber wasn't sure if the Big Ten is a small-ball league, "around the country, it's coming to that,'' he said.

Purdue often goes small, with senior Robbie Hummel logging some time at power forward and center. Meanwhile, the 13 consecutive field goals without a miss isn't a school record, but it's a game-changer for Bertrand.

"I feel comfortable on the court,'' he said. "At the beginning (of the year), I was kind of tight. I didn't want to make a mistake instead of playing my game.

"I don't want to try to do too much. That's when I make a turnover and get down on myself.''

Defensively, he can matchup with mobile forwards, such as Minnesota's Rodney Williams and Missouri's Kim English. Yet his contribution appears more offensively.

"We're a good transition team when I'm on the court,'' Bertrand said. "It's another athletic guard who can run.''

While Illinois also went with Twin Towers, playing center Meyers Leonard and power forward Nnanna Egwu together, Griffey saw his minutes drastically cut. Egwu logged 20 but Griffey had only 7 against the Gophers.

Griffey could learn something from Bertrand, who bounced back from a slump after a strong start in October and November. Griffey scored more than eight points in three games this season and only once after the season's first two games. Griffey scored two points combined in the last two games.

"He's got to come with some emotion,'' Weber said. "I told him that with Missouri. You can play hard. He's our strongest player. Use your body. Be physical.

"I still remember him against Ohio State as a freshman in the Big Ten Tournament. He's picking and popping, shooting the 3 with confidence and playing a lot of minutes. Joe fought through it. It would be nice to get Tyler to fight through it and be productive for us.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.