Illini get 1st win on Neutral Court!

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By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- Gonzaga. Bradley. Utah. Georgia. Missouri. Those were the five opponents Illinois played on neutral courts this season. All five were losses. Given that the entire NCAA tournament is played on neutral courts, it was IMPERATIVE that Illinois get at least ONE win on a non-partisan floor at the Big Ten Tournament before the big dance begins. So after the Illini’s 58-54 win over Wisconsin, I made sure a question about Illinois getting the monkey off their back got asked.

Actually, my question was the first one of the entire press conference. And it made Bruce Weber smile with a pleasant guffaw. The players grinned too. because they knew a question like this was coming.

“It feels great. When you lose away from home and things like that the confidence gets shot down a little bit, but at the same time we knew we could compete with a top 25 team and we just wanted to prove that in a new season, a new court that we could compete and win ballgames,” said junior point guard Demetri McCamey.

Another reporter sort of piggy-backed on my question, and asked Coach Bruce Weber about how Illinois has had a tendency to both play up and play down to their competition this season.

“We have I believe the fourth-most top-RPI wins in the country. We have proven all year we can beat people. Ironically he brought up the thing about the neutral court. It’s been a — usually we’ve had great records on neutral courts, and we have a good fan following, whether it was at Georgia or in the
United Center or Vegas, and we just haven’t played well. Our focus has not been very good there. And I don’t know if they played up or down to it. I think it’s more that when they play a good team, they have a sense of urgency. Maybe a little fear factor.

We haven’t played well at home the last three games, and I think a little bit of a casual attitude. That’s how our team has been all year. I think more than anything, casual, laid back, and that’s what gets us in trouble.

I went back Monday. I told the coaches I’m going to coach the way I want to
coach. We went after it for about an hour. All competitive drills, very physical, gave them a little bit of reprieves on Tuesday, came back, the same
thing on Wednesday. I said, guys, this is how we should be playing all the time. I think we came back and got the message and that’s how they
played,” Bruce responded.

You know you’ve asked a really good question at a press conference if the Coach brings it up again when answering another question. You know what else feels good? The Illini finally relieving themselves of the neutral court burden!

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