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Illinois looks to build on upset of Indiana against Minnesota

Illinois guard D.J. Richardsshoots over Indianguard Yogi Ferrell Thursday. He scored 23 points Illini’s upset. | John Dixon~AP

Illinois guard D.J. Richardson shoots over Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell on Thursday. He scored 23 points in the Illini’s upset. | John Dixon~AP

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:38AM



One victory doesn’t change everything, but it does change a lot.

Illinois’ rousing 74-72 upset Thursday of No. 1 Indiana shows the Illini (and their fans) they’re capable of rekindling the magic that propelled them to the Maui Invitational title and a top-10 ranking.

It also gives Illinois something to build on as it tries to avoid becoming the first Maui champion since 1987 to miss the NCAA tournament.

But the Illini also know they’ll need to continue to deliver their best to be successful in the rugged Big Ten, beginning with their trip Sunday to No. 18 Minnesota.

‘‘We played with a lot of passion,’’ coach John Groce said of the Indiana shocker. ‘‘It was good to get back to having that toughness and togetherness that we needed. But we’re not getting absorbed in one game, win or lose. Now it’s on to the next game.’’

After playing five of its first 10 Big Ten games against ranked opponents and two more against Wisconsin, which might be the best unranked team in the country, Illinois’ path lightens up a bit, but not a whole lot.

The Illini will play three of their final eight regular-season games on the road against ranked opponents: Minnesota, No. 3 Michigan and No. 10 Ohio State. They also have trips to Northwestern and Iowa, who are capable of giving any team fits.

The truth is, if Illinois doesn’t perform well, every opponent is dangerous. But the victory against the Hoosiers improved the Illini’s chances of reaching the NCAA tournament.

Now 3-7 in the Big Ten, they probably need to win five of their remaining eight conference games to feel optimistic on Selection Sunday. With four victories against current Top 25 teams — tied with Indiana for the most in the country — Illinois will have a solid selling point in the eyes of the selection committee, even at 8-10.

Against the Hoosiers, the Illini showed signs they might be ready to play their best basketball at the most important time of the season. For seniors such as D.J. Richardson, who scored 23 points against Indiana, and Brandon Paul, who added 21 points and threw the inbounds pass that Tyler Griffey converted into the game-winning layup, that will mean playing with intensity but remaining loose.

‘‘I had a lot of fun in the game,’’ Paul said. ‘‘That’s one thing I don’t think I’ve had recently. That’s one reason I haven’t been playing so well.’’

Rather than dwelling on the pressure, Paul, Richardson and fellow senior Griffey seem to have found a way to concentrate on making the most of their remaining college games.

‘‘We were telling each other, ‘We’re not done yet,’ ’’ Paul said. ‘‘We’ve been through a rough stretch, but we want our team to be successful. There’s a few more games left. We just have to keep battling.’’



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