BY CHAD DARE
Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce doesn’t see a million things wrong with his Fighting Illini.
Yes, his team has lost three straight and five of their last seven but he has a simple plan to get things turned around.
“We are just trying to execute better, play a little bit better,’’ he said. “We need to do things better — both offensively and defensively.’’
That sounds simple enough.
Illinois will attempt to end its losing ways tonight with a 7:30 p.m. contest in Lincoln, Neb., against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
A year ago, Nebraska humiliated Illinois in Lincoln with the Cornhuskers earning an 80-57 victory.
Groce said that game hasn’t been part of the Illini preparation as Illinois is coming off a 68-54 loss last Thursday at home to Northwestern.
“Right now, I think it’s more of an execution issue where we have to play better,’’ Groce said. “We have to make better plays. We have to take care of the ball better, and we have to shoot better. We have to defend better. We have rebound consistently. We have screen better. We have to move the ball better.
“All those little details matter. We’ve got to play better if we want different results.’’
And, according to Groce, it’s not like this team hasn’t played well this season.
Illinois, who has been rated in the Associated Press Top 25 until this week, has wins over No. 9 Butler in the championship game of Maui Invitational, and a win at No. 10 Gonzaga.
Additionally, the Illini, who are 14-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten, got their only league victory over No. 14 Ohio State.
“They know they have the capability of playing better,’’ Groce said. “They have played some really good basketball this season.
“We don’t have an effort issue on our team. We just need to execute better.’’
And while Illinois is trying to break a losing streak, Nebraska (10-9, 1-5), snapped a five-game losing skid on Saturday with a 68-64 win over Penn State.
Freshman Shavon Shields scored a career-high 29 points for the Cornhuskers, who also got 15 points from Ray Gallegos and 12 points from Brandon Ubel, who was returning after missing two games with an elbow injury.
“It starts with (Dylan) Talley and Gallegos — their two guards — those guys can put big numbers up,’’ said Groce as Gallegos and Talley are combining to average 26.1 points per game. “They are both explosive scoring.
“With Ubel being out, (David) Rivers and Shields had to amplify their roles a little bit.’’
Senior Brandon Paul continues to lead Illinois in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game. Paul is also the team leader in rebounding with 4.9 per game.
Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams leads the Illini with 3.2 assists per game and he is second in scoring (11.9).
For the first time all year, Illinois changed its starting lineup last Thursday against Northwestern.
Senior Sam McLaurin got the start over senior Tyler Griffey, who came off the bench with six points and a season-high six rebounds.
“I thought Tyler played really coming off the bench,’’ said Groce about his lineup for tonight. “More than likely that’s the way we are leaning.’’
Tonight’s game can be seen on the Big Ten Network and it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
Illinois Fighting Illini
vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Where — Devaney Center
When — 7:30 p.m.
Records — Illinois is 14-5 overall, 1-4 in the Big Ten; Nebraska is 10-9 overall, 1-5 in the Big Ten
Rankings — Neither team is rated in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Television — Big Ten Network
Radio — Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL 102.1
Previous results — Illinois leads the all-time series with Nebraska 8-3. The Illini and the Cornhuskers split their games last season. Nebraska winning 80-57 on Feb. 18, 2012, in Lincoln; while Illinois won 59-54 on Jan. 7, 2012, in Champaign.
Last game results — Illinois lost to Northwestern 68-54 last Thursday; while Nebraska defeated Penn State 68-64 on Saturday.
Next game — The Illini return to the Assembly Hall on Sunday as Illinois will host the No. 2-rated Michigan Wolverines. The Cornhuskers will host the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday.
Scoring — Illinois: Brandon Paul 18.2, Tracy Abrams 11.9, D.J. Richardson 10.8. Nebraska: Ray Gallegos 13.2, Dylan Talley 12.9, Brandon Ubel 12.1.
Rebounding — Illinois: Paul 4.9, Richardson 4.5, Joseph Bertrand 4.5, Nnanna Egwu 4.3. Nebraska: Ubel 6.8, Talley 5.5, Shawn Shields 4.9.
Assists — Illinois: Abrams 3.2, Paul 2.9, Richardson 1.7. Nebraska: Talley 2.7, Benny Parker 2.4, Ubel 1.4