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Tyler Griffey looms as the X-factor for Illinois in its NCAA game against Colorado

Updated: April 23, 2013 2:32PM

AUSTIN, Texas — Colorado coach Tad Boyle made no secret of it.

Andre Roberson, the Pac-12 ­defensive player of the year, will use his 6-7 length to guard Brandon Paul.

“Every defense going up against Illinois has Brandon Paul in the forefront of their mind, and we’re no different,’’ Boyle said Thursday. “He’s a big shot-taker and he’s a big shot-maker. We have to try to make him work for everything he gets.’’

Illini coach John Groce hinted at the counter-punch.

“I want to make one thing crystal clear,’’ Groce said. “It’s not Paul vs. Roberson. It’s Illinois vs. Colorado.’’

In other words, when the ­Illini begin their NCAA tournament quest on Friday (approximately 3:40 p.m., TNT), the Buffaloes will be intent on corralling Illinois’ biggest threat. And Illinois will have a help-wanted sign out.

Considering that Spencer Dinwiddie will be using his speedy 6-6 frame to take away D.J. Richardson, Illinois likely will need others to step up offensively if they plan to advance.

Is that going to be Tracy Abrams? Joseph Bertrand? Nnanna Egwu? Myke Henry? Maybe. But the signs point toward Tyler Griffey. The 6-9 forward from suburban St. Louis not only has the three-point stroke, he is likely to get open looks.

“I just try to do whatever it takes to help the team win,’’ Griffey said. “When I get opportunities to shoot, I take them. But a lot of my job is to do little things, too — rebounding, boxing out and just playing solid defense.’’

While it’s true that Illinois will need to lock in on defense, it’s also true that Griffey has often put the Illini over the top.

After posting just seven double-digit games his first three years, he had at least 10 points in seven of ­Illinois’ first eight games, helping spark the Illini to their 12-0 start.

When Illinois had its back to the wall at 2-7 in Big Ten play, Griffey poured in 14 points in the huge ­upset of Indiana. He followed with 16 at Minnesota and 12 against Purdue. That started the five-game winning streak that propelled ­Illinois to this NCAA berth, which had been looking precarious.

And now, the same people who wondered about Illinois before the season, who wrote off Illinois when it was 2-7, are expecting a Buffalo stampede.

“Our guys call them doubters and haters,’’ Groce said. “There were a lot early. There was a lot after we got into the rough patch there in the Big Ten schedule. But they stayed the course.’’

And despite the length of ­Colorado, which has only one starter under 6-6; the Illini plan to stay in the NCAA tournament.

“We’re not ready for it to be over yet,’’ Paul said. “We’re going to leave it on the floor.’’

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