BY CHAD DARE
Basketball is simple, the team that puts the ball in the basket more wins.
On Sunday at a sold-out Assembly Hall, the Michigan Wolverines made 31 field goals and seven free throws, while the Illinois Fighting Illini had 23 field goals and eight free throws.
The final result: Michigan 74, Illinois 60.
“You have to throw a couple in,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. “We had some good looks, we did. I thought we executed really well for the first 30 minutes and we got what we wanted. We didn’t make enough of them.
“They did. That’s where they deserve credit.’’
Talking about poor shooting is becoming a broken record for Groce.
Illinois, which falls to 15-6 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten Conference, has lost six straight games when shooting under 40 percent.
“We have to make a few more shots,’’ Groce said. “I thought our quality of shot was really good. I thought we had some really good looks.’’
But during a three-game losing streak at the Assembly Hall, the Fighting Illini are 12-of-70 from 3-point range.
“Lot of my teams have been based on 3-point shooting, sometimes it’s just a matter of having one game where a couple guys hit a shot or two and it gives everyone confidence,’’ said Michigan coach John Beilein. “My teams have some incredible dry spells at times, and when you play that way, it can get difficult at times. You try to tell your guys maybe not to settle for 3s, but at the same time, that’s maybe why you are so good.
“They will shoot their way out of eventually, it’s a lot of hard work, everyone hanging in there and believing in each other.’’
But, it wasn’t the shooting problems that bothered Groce or Illinois senior guard D.J. Richardson.
“Biggest things we have to do, we have to understand that when things are not going well on the offensive end you cannot tie your mindset to that on the defensive end,’’ Groce said.
Richardson, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, added that the Illini need to be mature and do other things better when they are not shooting well.
That didn’t happen on Sunday as Michigan shot a very respectable 52.5 percent (21-of-59) and the Wolverines turned 15 Illini turnovers into 22 points.
“We can’t let that affect us on the other end of the court,’’ Richardson said. “We made some bonehead plays. We broke down a few times on defense and they exposed us.’’
Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke, a player of the year candidate, was the guy taking advantage of the Illinois miscues.
On two separate occasions, once in the first half and once in the second half, Burke had a steal and layup to ignite a run for the Wolverines, who improve to 19-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten.
“We had a couple live ball turnovers that led to breakouts that you can’t guard or defend,’’ Groce said. “You can guard 1-on-nothing layups.’’
Burke’s first-half steal and basket started a 7-2 run giving Michigan a 35-27 halftime lead.
But, it was pick against Illinois senior Brandon Paul with less than nine minutes left that basically gave the Wolverines the road victory and the No. 1 ranking in the latest Associated Press Top-25 Poll.
Michigan went on a 13-2 run to turn a seven-point lead into a 66-50 advantage.
“To have a chance to beat them, we have to play better than we played today,’’ Groce said. “You break down or you make one mistake … they exploit it. They have a lot of weapons out there.’’
Paul was the leading scorer for Illinois with 15 points, followed by Richardson with 12 and Tracy Abrams finished with 10.
And while those three guards had 62 percent of the Illini offense, they were also 13-of-37 from field (35.1 percent).
“Guys are trying to make plays,’’ Richardson said. “You can’t always hit the home run. We have to count on other guys to make plays as well.’’
And that’s exactly what Michigan did on Sunday.
Burke was one of four players in double figures as Nik Stauskas (14), Glenn Robinson III (12) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (12) also contributed to the Wolverines victory.
Sunday’s loss was the first game in a challenging five-game stretch for Illinois.
Next up is a trip to East Lansing, Mich., on Thursday to face the Michigan State Spartans, who suffered a 75-70 loss to Indiana on Sunday.
50th Anniversary mini packs are available
CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois will celebrate 50 years of basketball at the Assembly Hall this season.
A special 50th anniversary mini pack of tickets to the final three Fighting Illini home games this season — Feb. 13 against Purdue, Feb. 21 against Penn State and March 2 against Nebraska — is being offered for $50. That is a 50 percent savings off the single-game ticket price.
The special ticket package can be purchased online at FightingIllini.com.