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Illinois basketball takes aim at 9-0 start against Western Carolina

Updated: January 5, 2013 6:22AM

Numbers agree with Illinois these days.

After a five-day break to rest up, the No. 13 Illini will try to run their record to 9-0 on Tuesday against Western Carolina (3-5) in Champaign. Not bad for a team that was picked ninth in the Big Ten.

Illinois leads the country with 11.3 three-pointers per game, and it is shooting 41.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks 12th nationally.

The game against Western Carolina (7 p.m., will be another opportunity for the Illini to improve before they face a stern test Saturday at No. 10 Gonzaga.

But even though John Groce is off to the best start by a first-year Illinois coach since Fletcher Lane barnstormed against YMCA teams in Texas in 1907, he isn’t viewing his inaugural season as a numbers game.

‘‘I don’t think that way,’’ Groce said. ‘‘We’re so caught up in the process and the journey, we kind of let results take care of themselves.’’

Groce said he was pleased with the 2-3 zone Illinois played for about 25 percent of its 75-62 victory last week against Georgia Tech. It’s a strategy that might help the Illini when they encounter some of the physical front lines they’ll see in the Big Ten.

‘‘I didn’t know we would play it that much, but it was pretty effective,’’ Groce said. ‘‘That’s our secondary
defense. When we feel we can utilize it to be competitive or if it’s a good strategy, we’ll certainly use it.’’

One player Groce wants to see more from is point guard Tracy Abrams, who has been letting mistakes linger
instead of moving on.

‘‘We have to get Abrams playing better,’’ Groce said. ‘‘He cares a great deal. Sometimes Tracy is his harshest critic because he wants to play perfect and basketball is not a game of perfect. He has to let go of those plays and learn from them, make simple plays, not try to hit home runs.’’

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