Illinois gets past Colorado in NCAA tournament; Miami next
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com March 22, 2013 6:00PM
Illinois' Brandon Paul (3) races up court past Colorado's Andre Roberson, right, during the first half of a second-round game at the NCAA college basketball tournament Friday, March 22, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Updated: March 23, 2013 4:18PM
AUSTIN, Texas — All season, Illinois has lived and died by its outside shooting.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament, it lived and died and lived.
Playing the best of halves and the worst of halves, the seventh-seeded Illini survived No. 10 Colorado 57-49 on Friday. They’ll face No. 2 Miami on Sunday.
Despite shooting 13 percent (2-for-15) in the second half and blowing a 16-point halftime lead, Illinois (23-12) is moving on.
‘‘It’s only fitting that the game was maybe as strange a game as I’ve been associated with,’’ coach John Groce said. ‘‘It would be that way with this group. We’ve done it the hard way a lot this year. But I’m proud of our guys for their resiliency. At this time of year, it’s about surviving and advancing.’’
The Illini needed it against Colorado (21-12). After taking a 37-21 halftime lead on six three-pointers, they went into a frozen tundra of a shell. They missed their first 14 shots in the second half and had five turnovers.
That allowed the Buffaloes to go on a 23-2 run and take a 44-39 lead. From there, Illinois scored 16 of the next 18 points to prevail, holding Colorado to one basket in a nine-minute stretch.
‘‘It’s March Madness. That stuff happens all the time,’’ said Brandon Paul, who led Illinois with 17 points by offsetting 3-for-12 shooting from the field with 9-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line. ‘‘We have to find ways to tough it out, and that’s what we did. We have a lot of guys that stay poised.’’
In confounding the experts who were picking Colorado, the Illini outrebounded the bigger Buffaloes 37-36 and had a seven-point edge at the free-throw line as both teams had weak shooting games.
Illinois shot 31 percent, including 26 percent on three-pointers. Colorado shot 33 percent, 26 percent on treys.
‘‘We were getting stop after stop; we were pushing it down their throat,’’ said Askia Booker (14 points), who sparked the Buffaloes’ second-half surge. ‘‘But give credit to Illinois for finding the open man and knocking down shots. That’s something they do very well.’’
Tracy Abrams ended Illinois’ 0-for-14 shooting drought with a drive to the basket. Shortly after that, D.J. Richardson and Paul drained back-to-back three-pointers to give Illinois a 48-44 lead.
‘‘This is our 35th game,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘We’ve been through so many situations, played in so many big games, that got us prepared for a game like this.’’
Groce improved to 4-2 in the NCAA tournament. And Illini Nation probably couldn’t help but notice that Bruce Weber, who did such a marvelous job at Kansas State this year, and his No. 4 Wildcats were upset by No. 13 La Salle.
It’s not fair to judge coaches on one fleeting moment in March. But that’s the nature of the business. It’s a big reason Weber wore out his Illini welcome and a big reason Groce landed in Champaign.
‘‘We just find ways,’’ Abrams said. ‘‘We trust each other. We trust the system, and we just find ways.’’
No one who doesn’t wear orange and blue will give the Illini a chance against Miami on Sunday, and for good reason. The Hurricanes tore through the ACC this year.
But Groce promised to have Illinois show up ready, regardless of how much emotional energy they expended Friday.
‘‘Our guys know this is a special opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll be able to rev it back up again on Sunday, no question about that.’’