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.
Nebraska (16-10, 8-6 Big Ten) is flourishing under second year coach Tim Miles, who has done an admirable job in turning the Cornhuskers program around in a short time span.
“Obviously their transfers that sat out last season are huge, with Petteway playing at a high level, and Walter Pitchford also hitting some big shots, including some clutch baskets from long range to beat Michigan State earlier this month in East Lansing,” Groce remarked.
Miles had some high praise for Nunn as well, saying “he is a big time player. It just takes a period of acclimation for someone to get going, and Coach Groce has done a good job with them.”
Illinois (15-12, 4-10 Big Ten) is still near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but with the league being so tight in the middle of the pack, one or two more wins will go a long way in moving them up in the standings.
The game between Illinois and Nebraska this evening is slated for an 8 p.m. central time tip-off, and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. The game will be broadcast locally on WDAN AM-1490 and WDNL FM 102.1, as well as statewide on the Fighting Illini Sports Network.
Game 28 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Site -- State Farm Center at Champaign When -- 8 p.m., today Records -- Nebraska 16-10 overall, 8-6 in the Big Ten Conference; Illinois 15-12 overall, 4-10 in the Big Ten Conference. Rankings -- Both teams are unrated. Television -- Big Ten Network Radio -- Fighting Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1. Previous results -- Illinois leads the all-time series 10-4 over Nebraska, with Nebraska winning the last game 67-58 on Feb. 12 at Lincoln, Neb. Last games -- The Illini defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 62-49 last week; while the Cornhuskers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 76-57 on Sunday for their sixth straight win. Up next -- Illinois plays Michigan State on Saturday at 3 p.m. at East Lansing, Mich.; while Nebraska hosts Northwestern at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Starting lineups -- Illinois: G Tracy Abrams, 6-2, jr.; G Kendrick Nunn, 6-3, fr.; G Rayvonte Rice, 6-4, jr.; F Malcolm Hill, 6-6, fr.; C Nnanna Egwu, 6-11, jr. Nebraska: G Tai Webster, 6-4 fr.; G David Rivers, 6-7, jr.; G Terran Pettway, 6-6, so.; F Shavon Shields, 6-7, so.; F Walter Pitchford, 6-10, so. Scoring leaders -- Illinois: Rice 16.2 points per game, Abrams 11.3, Joseph Bertrand 9.7, Nebraska: Petteway 18.4, Shields, 12.0, Deverell Biggs 9.9 Rebounding leaders -- Illinois: Rice 6.0 per game, Egwu 5.6, Jon Ekey 5.4, Bertrand 4.7. Nebraska: Shields 5.5, Leslee Smith 5.2, Petteway 5.0 Assist leaders -- Illinois: Abrams 3.1, Jaylon Tate 2.1, Rice 1.6. Nebraska: Webster 2.2, Petteway 1.6, Shields 1.5