After 'best game' of year, Illini wait

After 'best game' of year, Illini wait

CHAMPAIGN — With the opponent, location and time of his team’s next game still to be determined, Illinois coach John Groce used Saturday to make time for his other job: dad. After arriving back home from Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon following the Illini’s 64-63 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Friday, Groce hung out with wife Allison and sons Conner, 8, and Camden, 4.

They went to a local bookstore.

“Conner’s really into reading right now, so we’re trying to feed that,” Groce said.

He also spent time in the yard playing baseball and basketball with Conner.

“I don’t get to do those things enough, so I really want to take advantage while we’ve got a little bit of time here,” he said.

One thing he didn’t do was watch the Big Ten tournament semifinal games on television.

“I hate watching my own conference tournament, I just can’t do it,” he said.

The 42-year-old coach did sneak a peak at the SEC tournament game featuring Florida and Tennessee and some of the Toledo-Western Michigan game from his old league, the Mid-American Conference.

The Illini took Saturday and today off from basketball activities and will reunite tonight at Groce’s home for dinner, when they will learn the details of their next assignment, likely in the NIT. Until the bracket is announced tonight on ESPNU, don’t ask the second-year Illinois coach what he thinks might happen. He’s not trying to figure it out, nor is he seeking information to get a better understanding of the possibilities.

“I don’t follow any of that stuff,” he said. “(Assistant coach) Dustin (Ford) follows that stuff. Sometimes he’ll say some different things if someone asks, but mostly he keeps those things to himself.”

And with the postseason on the horizon, Groce hasn’t completely gotten over the sting of Friday’s heartbreaker. If Tracy Abrams’ short jumper in the lane had fallen at the horn, it would have been the Illini playing Saturday for a berth in the conference’s title game.

“That’s one I’ll remember for a long time. That one will be in my top five,” Groce said. “The way it ended and how close we were and how well we played. I don’t think we could have played much better. It might have been the best game we played all year. The last play worked out like a charm. We couldn’t have drawn that one up any better. If I had to do it again, I’d do it the same way. Three or four out of five times he makes that shot. That’s his shot. It’s not like it was a miracle shot. He had a great look and it just didn’t go down. I thought the guys executed it well.”