Illini realize this rut could cost them dearly
BY TINA AKOURIS firstname.lastname@example.org February 14, 2012 7:52PM
Updated: March 16, 2012 8:17AM
Junior reserve forward Tyler Griffey couldn’t hide the concern in his voice after Illinois lost a third consecutive game at Michigan on Sunday — its sixth loss in its last seven games.
‘‘We have to win at home. We have to win the rest of our home games,’’ Griffey said. ‘‘Every game is important now. We’re desperate. We have to get one [victory].’’
The Illini (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten) have three home games remaining: Purdue on Wednesday (7:30, BTN, 560-AM), Iowa on Feb. 26 and Michigan on March 1. They also have three road games left: Nebraska (Saturday), Ohio State (Feb. 21) and Wisconsin (March 4).
Purdue (16-9, 6-6) is coming off a physical 87-77 victory over Northwestern on Sunday.
Even if Illinois does play .500 ball in the final stretch of the regular season, it may be hard-pressed to get an NCAA tournament bid unless it wins the Big Ten tournament March 8-11 in Indianapolis.
‘‘Coach [Bruce Weber] is doing everything he can to make us better, and we have to go out there and produce,” junior guard D.J. Richardson said. ‘‘He teaches and shows us, and we have to do a better job on the court. He doesn’t teach us [how to commit] a turnover — that’s on us.
“[Purdue] is a big game, it’s a home game — we need this game. We break down and rely on help too much, and we get beat a lot, and we have to do a better job of moving our feet.’’
The Illini might not just be playing for an NCAA tournament bid — they might be playing for Weber’s job. Players such as freshman guard Tracy Abrams say they don’t read too much into the venom directed against Weber on Illini message boards, in the stands at Assembly Hall and on local radio stations, but it’s becoming harder to ignore.
‘‘I think Coach has done a great job with us,’’ Abrams said. ‘‘The coaching staff prepares us to the fullest, and we just have to do the little things as a team.’’
Weber pointed to turnovers in the 70-61 to Michigan as a problem. There also is the issue of sophomore center Meyers Leonard getting in too much foul trouble.
Abrams didn’t address either of those issues, instead citing a lack of execution.
‘‘We have to keep our head up, and it’s easy to lose confidence,’’ he said. ‘‘We had played together, but now we’re having a mental lapse and we need to refocus.’’