UI 57, Minnesota 53: 'We're having a lot of fun'

UI 57, Minnesota 53: 'We're having a lot of fun'

MINNEAPOLIS — After D.J. Richardson buried a three-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer to give Illinois a 31-30 lead against No. 18 Minnesota entering the locker room, he sprinted toward his Illinois teammates.

He and Brandon Paul met in midair, delivering a high-flying chest bump as the rest of the Illini celebrated around them.

They’re enjoying themselves again and the good vibes are back after Sunday’s 57-53 win against No. 18 Minnesota on Sunday at Williams Arena.

“We’re having a lot of fun and it’s not just because we won a couple of games, I think it’s because we’re playing together as a team,” said Paul, who scored 10 points to move into 10th place on Illinois’ career scoring list. “Coach (John Groce) talked about getting back to that.”

Truth is, they’ve been playing better for the last two weeks, it’s just now the results are there to back up that claim following Thursday’s win against top-ranked Indiana and Sunday’s triumph on the road.

“We’d gotten better. Sometimes people don’t want to hear that because you might lose and they think ‘God, you automatically got worse.’ That’s not how it works,” Groce said. “I told our guys just to keep swinging the hammer and I’m happy for the older guys, all of them, but I’m happy that those guys have hung in there and grinded and battled and they’ve listened and they remained coachable.”

The players are having fun, so are the coaches. And the couple dozen Illini fans occupying space in the southeast balcony had fun, too, after a deep Tracy Abrams (five points, six rebounds, six assists, no turnovers) three-pointer served as the dagger.

The orange-clad fans chanted “I-L-L, I-N-I” and waved an Illinois flag as the Gophers fans hit the exits to brave Winter Storm Orko, which dumped 6 inches of snow on the Twin Cities.

The goal going forward for the Illini (17-8, 4-7 Big Ten), who got 16 points from Tyler Griffey and 13 from Richardson against Minnesota (17-7, 5-6), is to give their backers something to cheer about in March — in the tournament that most folks truly care about.

“We’re just trying to get to the (NCAA) tournament, that’s our goal,” Richardson said. “We’re trying to finish the rest of this Big Ten season out with some good wins, taking every team once at a time, preparing every day the same way and we’ve got another season after that.”

After the first back-to-back wins in nearly two months, the Illini have put the stretch of games where they lost 8 of 11 in the rearview.

“I don’t think anyone on our team has given up,” Paul said. “As long as we keep fighting, I think good things are ahead for us.”

What happened
The Illini trailed 26-12 in the first half and didn’t make their first field goal until midway through the half but used a 17-4 run to take a lead into the locker room to end a 10-game conference losing streak on the road against ranked opponents.

What the Gophers said
“You’re not going to win scoring 53 points against teams. You just can’t play like that. We can’t play like that.” — coach Tubby Smith

What the Illini said
“I don’t think anyone on our team has given up. As long as we keep fighting, I think good things are ahead for us.” — guard Brandon Paul

What it means
Illinois’ NCAA tournament hopes took another jump after defeating back-to-back ranked opponents for the first time in three years and winning consecutive games this season for the first time since its 12-0 start.

What’s next
Illinois will attempt to end an eight-game losing streak to Purdue at home on Wednesday and in the process will be looking for its first three-game conference win streak since last January.


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Bear8287 wrote on February 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

The fans are having a lot more fun too!  :-)

A few things that jump off of the box score:

1) Tracy Abrams: 6 assists, 0 turnovers (Outstanding and the last 3-pointer was pretty good too.)

2) D.J. and Tyler combined for 7 of 12 shooting from beyond the arc and the Illini as a team shot 47.8% from beyond the arc.

3) 7-26 (26.9%) from inside the arc???

Go Illini!

Moonpie wrote on February 11, 2013 at 11:02 am

A dandy win. Two in a row--yah!

But watch the Sleepy Gazoo and Bushleague Jackson and Oracle Tate start the hyping and cheerleading again like Bob Swirsky in Da Bears skit on SNL -- "Illini 157, Ditka 42."

Truth is, this is a one game at a time team and you never know how it will go with them.

Hope they make the Big Dance, but that is not at all definite. They need some more conference wins and a decent conference tourney showing.

JohnUI82 wrote on February 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Name a team, especially this season, that isn't a one-game-at-a-time team. Even when you try to sound wise (instead of simply insulting), you come across as stupid.

Bwp 5P wrote on February 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Excellent Point John!!! Kudos to you!

BPWHS80 wrote on February 11, 2013 at 11:02 am

Q: How do you win road games in the B10 Conference?

A: You play great Defense and hold your opponent to 17 points under their season average.

What a great road win!

gregscott wrote on February 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Whole different offense when Tyler Griffey is knocking down shots.  Been down on DJ for awhile, happy to see him break out of the slump he'd been in for almost two conference seasons; way to go on co- conference player of the week honors!!  I'd like to hear coaches and players talk about winning conference titles and conference tourneys as much as they do the NCAA tourney.  I'm hoping for that  big dance championship as much as the next fan, but in the mean time I really like winning the conference title and tourney,  Do that and your ticket to the dance is a given.  GO ILLINI.