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Illinois looks to extend winning streak to six at No. 7 Michigan

John Groce

John Groce

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Updated: March 25, 2013 6:17AM



On one hand, Illinois faces a tall order at No. 7 Michigan on Sunday.

The Wolverines are led by guard Trey Burke, the front-runner for national player of the year in ESPN.com’s latest straw poll. They not only have a host of other players — including Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas — who are having banner seasons, but they handled the Illini
74-60 on Jan. 27 in Champaign.

On the other hand, that was then. Illinois, which has a five-game winning streak, heads to Ann Arbor thinking it’s capable of extending the streak if it plays well.

‘‘The first time we played them, we didn’t shoot well,’’ Illini coach John Groce said. ‘‘Defensively, we were just OK. We can be better. We have to do what we do and do it at a high level. They’re a great team.’’

Illinois shot only 37 percent against Michigan, including 23 percent (6-for-26) from three-point range. It allowed the Wolverines to shoot 52 percent, including 58 percent in the second half.

Losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin followed. It was a three-game losing streak that left the Illini searching for answers. Regrouping, Illinois notched an improbable upset of No. 1 Indiana on Feb. 7. It hasn’t lost since.

What’s behind the turnaround?

‘‘For a team to become its best, you have to go through some adversity,’’ Groce said, quoting a remark made by Florida coach Billy Donovan. ‘‘We went through some adversity. That’s made us stronger and tougher. We learned a lot from that. It’s not fun when you’re not playing as well as you think you can play. But I don’t know if we’d be in the situation we are now if we hadn’t gone through that.’’

The situation is this: The Illini
have three tough road games (at Michigan, at Iowa and at Ohio State) and a home date against Nebraska in their final four games. One more victory should put them on solid ground for an NCAA tournament seed in the 6-to-9 range. Multiple victories would improve their seeding prospects.

And the way Illinois has been playing, no game is out of reach.

‘‘John Groce is doing a great job,’’ Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. ‘‘His energy, his fire, his enthusiasm. Illinois is playing with a lot more toughness.’’



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