Illinois can’t repeat its feat in loss to Indiana
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org March 15, 2013 11:38PM
Indiana’s Cody Zeller dunks for two of his 24 points Friday at the United Center. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
No. 8 Illinois 51, No. 9 Minnesota 49
No. 5 Michigan 83, No. 12 Penn St. 66
No. 10 Nebraska 57, No. 7 Purdue 55
No. 6 Iowa 73, No. 11 Northwestern 59
No. 1 Indiana 80, No. 8 Illinois 64
No. 4 Wisconsin 68, Michigan 59
No. 2 Ohio St. 71, No. 10 Nebraska 50
No. 3 Mich. State 59, No. 6 Iowa 56
12:40 p.m.: No. 1 Indiana
vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, Ch. 2
3 p.m.: No. 2 Ohio State
vs. No. 3 Michigan State, Ch. 2
2:30 p.m.: Championship, Ch. 2
Updated: April 17, 2013 6:13AM
The second time was not a charm.
Illinois, which shocked Indiana on a buzzer-beating layup Feb. 7 in Champaign, battled a bit in the second half after another sputtering start. But in the end, the Hoosiers showed why they’re going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Indiana knocked the Illini out of the Big Ten tournament 80-64 on Friday behind a cut-down-the-nets performance from Cody Zeller. The 7-foot sophomore center had 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds. He shot 9-for-11 from the field and was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
‘‘He’s a load, a terrific player,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. ‘‘There’s a reason he’s on all those magazine covers. For a guy his size, he can really run.’’
The Hoosiers (27-5) advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the first time since 2006.
The Illini (22-12) will head home to await their NCAA tournament assignment, which is likely to be a No. 7 or 8 seed.
‘‘I feel like once we put two halves together, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with,’’ Brandon Paul said. ‘‘I feel like we have a lot of basketball left.’’
Putting together two halves will be easier said than done. But saying it is a start.
Paul and Tracy Abrams, who had 16 points each to lead Illinois, stressed the importance of playing well at both ends for 40 minutes.
‘‘They told the team we need to play two halves. That’s great,’’ said Groce, who also is optimistic about Illinois’ NCAA prospects. ‘‘These guys care a lot about their team. This time of year, that’s really important.’’
Making shots, playing locked-in defense and snatching rebounds — what Groce calls executing — also are important. Illinois didn’t do those things consistently enough against Indiana.
In the first half, Illinois shot 26 percent. In the second half, it allowed Indiana to shoot 65 percent.
In the first 11-plus minutes of the game, Illinois made only two baskets, leaving Groce thankful to be down 35-21 at the break.
‘‘I thought we were really resilient today,’’ said Groce, who liked his team’s first-half defense. ‘‘The offense was not good in the first half. [The score] could have been really ugly.’’
Digging in, Illinois cut Indiana’s lead to 60-52 with eight minutes left. But that was as close as it got. Indiana, which believed it lifted off the pedal when it lost at Illinois, kept the heat on this time.
Beyond Zeller, the Hoosiers got big games from Christian Watford (15 points), Victor Oladipo (12 points, 11 rebounds), Will Sheehey (11 points, 4-for-4 shooting) and Jordan Hulls (seven assists and big-time defense).
‘‘We learned from that game,’’ Watford said.
In that game, D.J. Richardson and Paul combined for 44 points on 14-for-29 shooting. In this game, they had 25 points on 4-for-23 shooting as Indiana cranked up its defense.
‘‘That’s the story of the game,’’ Crean said. ‘‘These guys have seen the last seven minutes of that game numerous times.’’
On one hand, Illinois has lost four of five. On the other hand, it has won 7 of 11, with three road losses against teams that were 49-5 at home.
‘‘We play in the toughest conference in the country,’’ said Abrams, who believes the Illini are ready for the NCAA tournament. ‘‘We’ll see what happens.’’