Tate: Lots of work remains for Illini

Tate: Lots of work remains for Illini

CHAMPAIGN — John Groce has dreamed of coaching a team that averages 80 points with five players in double figures ... that limited opponents to 40 percent shooting ... that produced more assists than turnovers.

Actually, Groce’s Illini aren’t far off those numbers in a 9-0 start.

They are among national leaders from the arc, have one more assist than turnovers, are limiting foes to 40 percent from the field and have four starters in double figures.

But the Illini, who survived scares with last-ditch threes to beat so-so Hawaii and Gardner-Webb teams, nearly slipped up against Western Carolina at home Tuesday night.

Between erratic shooting — numerous missed layups, several of which were tipped in — and being outrebounded 41-34, the Illini broke out of a 54-54 tie to outscore the Catamounts 18-10 in the last 5:30.

After being relatively quiet earlier, guards D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams combined for the last 16 of those 18 points ... 16 of the 23 they accumulated in the game.

There’s no rush
So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If it’s exhilarating to be in the Top 25, we must understand that it can be fleeting.

Gonzaga is waiting in Spokane, Missouri is anxious to extend its Braggin’ Rights streak, and Auburn is bringing SEC basketball to the United Center.

And then there’s the toughest lineup of Big Ten rivals since the 1980s.

The Illini, we must remind ourselves, opened 10-0 last year with victims that included Illinois State 63-59, Maryland 71-62, Gonzaga 82-75
and St. Bonaventure 48-43. Then came the long slide that began with losses to UNLV (64-48) in Chicago and to Missouri (78-74) in St. Louis.

Groce called Tuesday’s performance “disappointing,” joking that his activity on the sideline caused him to rip his pants.

“I apologize,” he smiled. “Next time I’ll wear dark underwear.”

Key in the clutch
On the positive side, the Illini again played strong when the chips were down. Abrams was coming off two poor performances and was 1 for 8 with one assist in the first half. But he chilled the hopeful visitors with his driving, hustling style at the end.

“We made some plays in the stretch. Tracy got to the rim. And we dug out some steals,” Groce said.

Illinois dominated points off turnovers, 29-4, and led in second-chance points, 22-14. Thanks to the frequent breakaways, they never gave up the lead although it was tied at 40-40 and 54-54.

But there is concern. This was a foe that has already lost six games ... is bouncing through a stretch of seven straight road games ... and had to overcome an early 17-7 deficit here.

“We have to execute better,” Groce said, “and we were terrible on the backboards. We gave up 18 offensive rebounds.

“They drove us and we made too many fouls (16). Giving up 42 points in the second half is unacceptable. We weren’t active, and we weren’t tough enough. That’s my responsibility.”

So it’s an eight-point win that won’t carry weight one way or another in the long run. All eyes are on Gonzaga. A win in Spokane and Tuesday will be forgotten.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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TheChiefLives wrote on December 05, 2012 at 7:12 am

I concur.  The rebounding has got to get better.  I hate to knock him, but Egwu usually looks out-of-position and overmatched.  He needs to be tougher on the boards.  This is going to kill us in league play.

Also, the foul shooting is on par with some teams of old.  You've gotta make those.  When your opportunity at a shot gets taken away, then you miss the foul shots, you get in a hole really quickly.

All in all they look pretty good.  Just a couple tweaks from dominance.  I hope they can roll over Gonzaga on Saturday so they can start getting some respect from all of these people bashing them because they are ranked.  Its not their fault folks...

walker wrote on December 05, 2012 at 9:12 am

get ready, you know who will shortly remind us that L T has once again insulted UI fans in this article and has shown arrogance by stating the obvious.  Oh and also revealed his disdain of Chicago.

dogmechanic wrote on December 05, 2012 at 11:12 am


optimator wrote on December 06, 2012 at 1:12 pm

keep hoping cowpie gets put out to pasture.

PortlandIllini wrote on December 05, 2012 at 11:12 am

The Illini are 9-0 and ranked #13 in the nation:   Time to unleash the ILLINI DOGS OF CRITICISM! 

The team should have won by a bigger margin,  we're soft in the middle,  how come they get out rebounded?,  the center is out of position,  what about those missed layups?,  why aren't they making more free-throws?,  we didn't play with enthusiasm for 40 minutes,  why can't we recruit bigger stronger and faster players, we're not mentally tough, what about a zone defense?,  and why are the officials allowing all that contact in the paint?  And don't forget to select one player as your 'favorite target' and blame him for any future losses because players always perform better when fans and the media get on their case.

Last night we all got a glimpse of the rest of the season. Our opponents, especially in the Big Ten, are going to bump, hack, and try to intimidate our guys.  Coach Groce's job is to optimize the performance of the players on the team, not to try to pretend they are something  else.   I expect to see more zone defense during league play to avoid our guys being manhandled in the paint.

 I really like Coach Groce's comments.  There's no such thing as perfect in basketball,  let's take the win and move on.    I really appreciate his positive attitude toward the players:  the Coach takes the responsibility if the team is underperforming.



OKOMIS wrote on December 05, 2012 at 11:12 am

I didn’t get it either…. Seems like he’s trying to draw a response from someone he says he wishes wouldn’t respond…. Go figure..

Moonpie wrote on December 05, 2012 at 2:12 pm

walker--not much to say. For once Tate slips off his cute little cheerleader skirt and points out a truth: this team has potential but is likely overrated and needs to win against some better teams.

afan wrote on December 05, 2012 at 6:12 pm

People were wondering what would happen when Illinois wasn't hiiting their shots.  Well, this is what happens.  They have a tough time against a team they should beat easily, and they'd probably lose to a good team like Gonzaga.  Pretty much the same thing that would happen to any team that's not hitting their shots.

DaisyJ wrote on December 05, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Wake up everyone, including Tate,,why would anyone that is a big guy be expected to be a big rebounder when the majority of our shots are 3's.  They do not allow for under basket rebounding. They bounce out too far. When was the last time someone got an under basket reobund put back. When.?  Same thing with when was the last time someone cut to the top of the free throw line, caught the ball turned faked and shot. Hardly never. So how much fun is basketball to watch with the 3 ball shot so popular. It isn't. Wake up. The game no longer has plays that made the game great. What ever happened to all the one on one skills kids used to have. Now they throw up a 3 ball set shot and we think they have skill. ha ha ha

TheChiefLives wrote on December 06, 2012 at 8:12 am

Actually, if you take a look at the stats thus far, the second chance points from Offensive boards are keeping us in games when they are missing the threes.  I see what you are saying about a 1-man show in the middle on a tre-heavy team, but it simply has not been the case thus far.

The problem has been the DEFENSIVE rebounding.  They keep giving the other team those same second, third, 4th chances...they need to be more agressive on the defensive glass.

I like the 3-ball.  I think it has added to the game, not taken away from it.  It is no longer just a big-man's game.  Guard play was not as prevalent before.  6-footers wouldn't even get a chance to play ball today if it weren't for outside shooting.  It would be a game dominated by tall guys with big hands and no finesse. 

DaisyJ wrote on December 06, 2012 at 9:12 am

Defensive rebounding is just thinking long rebound vs short. Many times it is a race to the ball vs jumping or blocking out to get it. With the 3  ball  we have no rebound put backs, yes we get balls back, but not from under the basket. Watch the next game, tape it, and then watch off ball how the players never cut to the middle anymore, never shoot the mid range shot. The 3 ball has crushed a good game. Why have talented players that can cut and slash when you see or have them do it, they just want the glorified 3 shot.

DaisyJ wrote on December 06, 2012 at 9:12 am

The 3 ball also means there is hardly any post play, or forward play.  There is very little cutting,

and a lot of standing and perimeter passing. Just watch any game, and see how they stand with their tounges out and hands up hoping to get a chance to shoot a set shot 3. Do you like to watch standing around. We reward the wrong thing.