Illinois at Nebraska, 7:30 p.m. today
Illinois (14-5, 1-4 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.9
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 10.8
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.2
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 3.7
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.2
FYI: With 14 points, Paul will move into sole possession of 15th place on the Illinois career scoring list, surpassing Jerry Hester (1,415).
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.8
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.7
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.3
Nebraska (10-9, 1-5 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ray Gallegos Jr. 6-2 13.2
G Shavon Shields Fr. 6-6 7.9
G Dylan Talley Sr. 6-5 12.9
F David Rivers So. 6-7 5.8
C Andre Almeida Sr. 6-11 5.9
FYI: Shields, who moved into the starting lineup five games ago, scored a career-high 29 points the last time out in a win at Penn State.
OFF THE BENCH
F Brandon Ubel Sr. 6-10 12.1
G Benny Parker Fr. 5-9 3.0
G Jordan Tyrance So. 6-3 1.0
Site: Devaney Center (13,595) Lincoln, Neb.
TV: BTN — Kevin Kugler (play-by-play) and former Illini Eddie Johnson (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 8-3. Last meeting — Nebraska 80, Illinois 57, Feb. 18, 2012.
FYI: After tonight’s meeting with the Cornhuskers, Illinois’ next five games are against teams currently ranked in the top 15.
Marcus Jackson’s Storylines
The last time out against Northwestern, John Groce made a change to the starting lineup for the first time all season, inserting McLaurin into the first five and moving Griffey to the bench. Groce said Monday he’s likely to go with that lineup against the Cornhuskers after Griffey responded with six points and tied a season-high with six rebounds against the Wildcats in 23 minutes. “I thought Tyler played really well coming off (the bench). Obviously he’s going to play starter-type minutes, Lord willing,” Groce said. “More than likely, that’s the way we’re leaning.” McLaurin struggled in Thursday’s loss to Northwestern, but the Illini are looking for toughness from McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu in the frontcourt against Nebraska’s 315-pound Andre Almeida and Brandon Ubel, who is expected to return after an injury.
Sometime between the Northwestern game and Monday, the Illinois players held a players-only meeting. They understandably declined to discuss the details of the sit-down, who spoke and what was said. Even Groce isn’t completely sure what happened during that session. The hope is that it got the group refocused with a tough slate of games on the horizon in the next couple of weeks. “That’s their meeting. It’s their team. I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Groce said. “Obviously they care, they’ve cared for a long time. That hasn’t changed just because we’ve lost some games. It doesn’t surprise me. Ultimately it is their team. The seniors, their deal is winding down, they don’t have a lot left. They’ve got a few months left here. They’re trying to maximize it, get the most out of it and hold each other a little bit more accountable on their end and I think that’s a good thing.”
During a stretch of games where Illinois has lost five of seven, the defense has fallen off the pace that helped the team get off to a 12-0 start and rise as high as No. 10 in the AP poll. Groce was particularly disappointed with the performance against Northwestern. It’s not a question of effort, which many assume is the case when teams struggle at the defensive end. “For the most part, I think we are (playing hard). These guys are giving us everything they’ve got,” he said. “The last few games, I didn’t think we came out as aggressively as we needed to start both games. All in all, when I grade the film, I say to myself, ‘We’re playing hard, we are.’ At some point you’ve got to execute, too. A guy sets a back screen, you better help or it’s going to be a layup. That doesn’t mean you’re not playing hard. We’ve got to execute those little details.”
Prediction: Nebraska 60, Illinois 58
Illinois’ last trip to the Devaney Center is remembered for the image of Meyers Leonard weeping on the bench as the Cornhuskers delivered a beating to the Illini. This year’s team isn’t interested in looking back at history. “We haven’t talked a whole lot about that. It’s irrelevant, has nothing to do with the game (tonight),” Groce said. The Illini are in desperate need of a win, but more than anything the overriding message coming out of their locker room has been simple: play better. “I think it’s important to play well. I can’t control some things, but we need to play well, that’s really important. We need to come out and be aggressive and we need to play well,” Groce said. “We need to execute better on the things we’ve been working on and then we need to play well. Then the other stuff takes care of itself. I do think that we need to play better and I anticipate us playing better than what we’ve played here in the last couple games. We’ve got to play better.” (N-G record: 11-8).