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Rutgers Illinois Basketball

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) has had a busy week, but is getting plenty of love from his family back in the Republic of Georgia.

CHAMPAIGN — It's been a heck of a week for Illinois freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

He scored 35 points, an Illinois men's basketball program scoring record for a freshman, on Saturday in a win over Rutgers. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday. On Tuesday, he was spotted in the back of a pickup truck on Twitter getting a ride home from class while roommate, and fellow freshman, Tevian Jones was in the front seat. 

The photo prompted playful banter from the University of Illinois Police Twitter page, and Bezhanishvili learned the rules of the road and that it's frowned upon to hop in the bed of a truck for transportation. He doesn't intend to navigate the city that way again.

But most importantly, he's gotten plenty of love from his family back home as his celebrity in Champaign-Urbana, and around the college basketball landscape, continues to grow.

“All the family is really proud," Bezhanishvili said. "My grandparents were crying all the time because they kept showing me on the TV back home. All the people in the city and the neighborhood talk about me and talk to my grandparents about me. They are really proud. Like media, like you guys, just reaching out to me all the way from there and asking questions and taking interviews. Then it gets published back home and I kind of make my family proud."

Settling into roles

With seven regular season games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, the team's roles have been defined. Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Aaron Jordan and Bezhanishvili have been staples in the starting lineup. Recently, Da'Monte Williams has settled into the starting five.

But head coach Brad Underwood cares as much about his bench as his starters. He's sung the praises of junior Andres Feliz and his play off the bench along with Adonis De La Rosa's play in the post.

“I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve started to turn the corner a little bit and have some success," Underwood said. "Dre is a great example and is dialed into what his role is. His minutes are going to be the same whether he starts or comes off the bench. We’ve become very accustomed and acclimated to Adonis coming off the bench and knowing we’re going to get 12-15, 16 minutes a game. We’re defined a lot more to who we are. That’s helped us and one of the reason we’re playing better."

Illinois had to incorporate a lot of new faces into the rotation. Dosunmu knew it would be a work in progress.

“Like I said in the beginning of the season, I figured it was going to take time," he said. "We have new talent around each other to find roles. I think we’re starting to get more comfortable in our roles and playing together as a team and getting after it defensively. We have to keep taking steps and keep getting better. We can’t get complacent after winning three in a row at home. We have to get one more and keep wanting to do more and to accomplish more."

Different De La Rosa this time around

When Illinois travels to Ohio State on Thursday, it'll have a different version of De La Rosa to throw at the Buckeyes' 270-pound big man Kaleb Wesson. 

De La Rosa, who at 260 pounds is a good physical comparison to Wesson, has had more games under his belt than he did in the first meeting on Dec. 5. Though De La Rosa was cleared to play in that game after he recovered from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last season, he was a shell of himself. He had four points and a rebound.

At this point in the year, De La Rosa is a better defender on ball screens, can establish positioning in the post and has hit his free throws.

“He was just barely back," Underwood said. "It was really, I don’t want to say unfair because he was ready to play and he was healthy, but he had so little experience in what we were doing at that time. His game has matured. He’s growing and he’s growing a lot. He’s a guy we feel comfortable with."

Griffin continually improves

Freshman Alan Griffin arrived in Champaign with a prolific 3-point shot. It helped him achieve success in high school, leading his school to its first state federation championship. In Champaign, he's averaging 2.8 points per game and has hit just 11 3-pointers while he earns more playing time.

But Underwood knows Griffin's time is coming. In the last few games, Griffin has had a knack for being at the right place for rebounds and diving on the floor for loose balls.

“He’s had two great days of practice," Underwood said. "(Tuesday) was as good a practice as he’s had since he’s been in uniform. He’s buying in defensively. He’s getting to where he’s contributing.

"I love his length. He gets his hands on balls. He’s a rebounder. We all know he can really shoot it. I think it’s just the opportunity to get comfortable. He can be that guy who can be a productive offensive guy off the bench."

Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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