Unlike Any Other

Coach John Groce is looking forward to his first taste of the Braggin' Rights rivalry game.

John Groce had never taken part or attended the Illinois-Missouri rivalry game, labeled Braggin' Rights, when he accepted the Illinois head position in late March.

It didn't take long though for fans, boosters and well-wishers to get him up to speed.

The atmosphere at the game, played in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center, is unlike any other in college basketball, people kept telling Groce.

The 22,000 seats are divided 50-50, half wearing black and gold and half wearing orange and navy blue.

The energy, fueled further with both teams entering ranked in the Top 12, is expected to be incredible, although motivation is never a problem anyway.

Groce says he's looking forward to the experience, the challenge of treating this game like any other game when on countless occasions it's been made clear to him this is a different animal in all aspects.

Still, Groce knows what it will take to win, and it's a pretty simple plan.

"I think a lot of it comes down to execution, you know, and players making plays," he said. "I know that we've had some great wins and they have some great wins, too. I think if you look at the tape you see players making plays, so he's got some guys out there that can do that and we have some guys out there that can do that, and I think in many ways it will come down to that."

The Tigers have won three straight in the series, a fact that Groce has heard plenty about, too. Illini players, especially the seniors, have placed a premium on winning this year's game.

"I don't want to go out 0-4 against Missouri for my career," guard Brandon Paul said.

While the Illini have struggled in the series' recent past, this Missouri team is vastly different than the group that beat Illinois 78-74 a year ago.

Only one player -- second-leading scorer Phil Pressey -- played in the game last year.

Conversely, Illinois boasts six players with experience in the game. While that looks good on paper, Groce isn't sure how much of an advantage that actually will be.

"Where does that get you after a few minutes when you've adjusted to the excitement level, the atmosphere, I don't know," Groce said.

The past is in the past, a sentiment indicated by Groce's attitude during a press conference Thursday. And the build up to the game, as intense as it may be, won't have much impact once the game is underway.

"Regardless of what the their record is previously, I've got news for them. It ain't changing," Groce said of his team's three game losing streak to Missouri. "It has really no affect on Saturday's night's game. It's a separate game than the other three played. It comes down to locking in and focusing in on our game plan and executing and making plays and being tough and being able mentally to deal with -- I call it dealing -- we've got to be able to deal with the cards dealt on each possession, whether it's adversity cards, success or feel card cards, we've got to deal with those cards. I think the team that does the best job with that will also have a huge advantage. We've got to make sure mentally we're tuned in, mentally we're tough and that we can deal with anything thrown at us."

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