Injury woes have Illinois concerned

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Illinois guard D.J. Richardson (1) drives for the basket past Lipscomb guard Deonte Alexander (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

After escaping Northwestern with a 57-56 victory Wednesday in Evanston, Illinois will host Nebraska on Saturday (noon, Big Ten Network, 560-AM) with a slew of injury concerns.

Guard Sam Maniscalco is likely to miss his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury, coach Bruce Weber said, and freshman Tracy Abrams is likely to replace him again.

Since Maniscalco’s injury surfaced at the start of conference play, Illinois (13-3, 2-1) has struggled to run its halfcourt offense.

‘‘He’s our poise, our experience, and he knows where everybody is supposed to be on the court,” Weber said.

Abrams was scoreless against Northwestern.

‘‘But he had three assists and five rebounds, and he did what point guards are supposed to do,” Weber said.

He also provides a necessary ballhandler on a team with a shortage of such players. After averaging 19 turnovers in their first two Big Ten games, the Illini committed only 11 against the Wildcats. Still, shooting guard Brandon Paul was responsible for six and proved again he is more effective playing off the ball.

‘‘If you’ve seen us, we’re not good passers,” Weber said.

The immediate concern is the health of guard D.J. Richardson, who suffered a sprained right wrist after being fouled hard by NU’s Drew Crawford while going to the basket early in the second half Wednesday. He was wincing in pain, missed both free throws and struggled with his shot for the rest of the game.

Richardson is Illinois’ defensive stopper outside and likely will be assigned to slow the Cornhuskers’ top offensive threat, Bo Spencer, who is averaging 14.3 points.

Freshman forward Myke Henry likely will be the beneficiary of the Illini’s injury woes. He scored six points in 15 minutes against the Wildcats, including the tiebreaking free throw with six seconds left.

After struggling with injuries early in the season, Henry has provided an offensive spark off the bench. His three-pointer late in the first half ignited a 16-2 run against NU.

The Cornhuskers (8-6, 0-3) have been drilled by ranked opponents Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State in their first three Big Ten games.

Illinois is 7-2 all-time against Nebraska, but the schools haven’t played since 1990.

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