The Runnin' Bulldogs (4-3) and Fighting Illini (6-0) are each coming off grueling road trips, with GWU flying back in from Cancun midday Thursday after capturing the Mayan Division Trophy at the 2012 Cancun Challenge in Mexico.
Illinois also had a trophy in tow on a long flight back from Hawaii after blitzing the field to win the 2012 Maui Invitational.
Gardner-Webb will face a red-hot squad on the cusp of the national top-25 Sunday afternoon, with the game televised live on the Big Ten Network (4:00 pm tip). Sunday's game will also air live on WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org), with Fabian Fuentes calling the action.
The Runnin' Bulldogs have won three out of four games, including a decisive road victory at DePaul and a near upset at Big Ten member Iowa two nights later. Gardner-Webb led the Hawkeyes by 23 points late in the first half and led by 20 at the break before the hosts caught fire in the second half to rally for a 65-56 win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
In its two double figure wins in Mexico, Gardner-Webb got a significant boost from Tournament MVP Donta Harper. The 6-foot-6 swing man averaged 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in an outstanding all-around effort.
He scored a career-high 21 points against Austin Peay in the title game, but his most impressive performance may have been against Howard on day earlier. Harper netted 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and just two turnovers in that 55-43 win.
Max Landis – who poured in a career-best 20 points in the win at DePaul – also earned All-Tournament honors in Cancun. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard leads the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game and has become a more complete scorer in his second season with the program.
Gardner-Webb will be without starting center Mike Byron (6-10, 245, Jr.) for the sixth consecutive game on Sunday.
The Runnin' Bulldogs were able to benefit from preseason All-Big South guard Tashan Newsome (6-3, 200, RSr.) for limited minutes against Austin Peay, some good news after the Albany, N.Y., native missed all but two minutes of the previous four games with an injury. Newsome averaged 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in league play last season.