CHAMPAIGN — For the majority of the 2013-14 basketball season, Fighting Illini head coach John Groce has used the same starting lineup. That all changed four games ago when Groce inserted freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup.
During that time, Illinois has gone 2-2, but have been much more competitive in games, thanks in part to the energy that both Hill and Nunn have given them.
“Kendrick has been getting better with each and every game, and has a high degree of mental toughness,” Groce said.
For his efforts, Nunn was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week, the first time this season one of the Illini newcomers were bestowed that honor.
With the Big Ten season beginning to wind down, Groce is attempting to get his team focused to play after another week off since their last game, which was one of the more impressive performances of the season in a 62-49 victory over Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
“I think it was one of the most complete efforts that we have had on both sides of the ball,” Groce said.
Groce continued by saying that “we’ve only played twice since we last faced Nebraska, but they have improved greatly since our first meeting. The Illini were defeated 67-58 by the Cornhuskers on Feb. 12 in Lincoln.
Groce has said previously on numerous occasions that this time of year, coaches love to coach, and players love to play games. Illinois’ next opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, are one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, and are playing at a high level, having won seven of their last eight games.
“They (Nebraska) are playing with a lot of energy right now, and their talented transfer Terran Petteway is playing at as high of a level as anyone in the league right now,” Groce said.