Feb. 10—CHAMPAIGN — After almost a week off. the Illinois men's basketball team are ready for a huge stretch.
"We had a few days off and that's the last time we will have that this season," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "Breaks like this are all mental. You have to understand it is about competing and you have to compete in this league. I don't buy into rest, I think it is a little overrated when you are 18-22 years old. It may help in preventing injuries. But it can take time to engage in the highest level. We took a day off before the Nebraska game and we were flat."
The No. 10 Illini (17-5 overall, 8-3 in the Big Ten) are coming off an 87-87 overtime win over Nebraska at the State Farm Center.
"We took Wednesday off after a game where we were solid and did what we had to do on the defensive side," Underwoood said. "It is challenging when one guy gets going like (Keisei) Tominaga did. You have to skew things a little bit toward stopping him, but someone else will breathe and I thought Rienk (Mast) did a great job.
"At the end of the day, we found a way. I didn't like the last three minutes, even though we had some great shots with Marcus (Domask) getting a shot and layup, Terrence (Shannon) had two great 3's and Quincy (Guerrier) had a big three. In a night where we were not great in shooting, we found a way. Offensive rebounding was a big reason for it."
The Illini will travel to East Lansing, Mich. to play Michigan State (14-9 overall, 6-6 in Big Ten). The Spartans are coming off a 59-56 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday, but Underwood is not underestimating them at all — especially after a 71-68 Illinois win on Jan. 11 at the State Farm Center.
"I say it all the time, it is a typical Tom (Izzo) team and they are going to grind," Underwood said. "They have three excellent perimeter players. (A.J.) Hoggard did a great job getting to the rim and we have to do a better job in stopping him early and Tyson (Walker) is one of the best scorers in the league. You can't forget about (Jaden) Akins because he is a great three-point shooter and Malik (Hall) is playing really well. We have to execute and keep them out of transition.
"There is a reason he is in the Hall of Fame and has won over 700 games. He's a competitive person and he expects a lot and he gets a lot. You are not where he's at without expecting the very best for this team."
A key for Illinois is versatility. It is something that Underwood has said has been a big difference from seasons past.
"It allows us to do different things and we are interchangeable. Before that, we did what we did with Kofi (Cockburn), but now you can move Coleman (Hawkins) around, move Marcus around, Ty (Rodgers) around and Quincy around, All these guys can screen and receive screens and that's a good thing to have."
The game will start at 1 p.m. and will be shown on CBS. The game will also be broadcast on the Busey Bank Illini Sports Network, which includes WDAN-Am 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.