Stating His Case

Mike Shaw has played himself into the discussion for minutes and perhaps an increased role in the rotation.

CHAMPAIGN - Mike Shaw logged a season-high 19 minutes in Saturday's game at Wisconsin, earning the little bit of praise coach John Groce doled out following the 74-51 loss.

Shaw's hustle and effort in that game continued in subsequent practices, with the recent upswing in performance positioning the sophomore forward for a spot in the rotation.

As it turns out, Shaw's improved run in practice began when the team reconvened after Christmas break according to Groce.

The team was playing well at the time though and Groce was set on his rotation and potential lineups. Shaw didn't see the floor at all in six straight games and played only a minute in the loss to Minnesota in the contests prior to the trip to Madison.

The losers of three of the last five and trailing the Badgers by a wide margin early, Groce inserted Shaw into the game. He finished with two points, three rebounds, a steal and an assist, but Shaw's stats weren't what impressed Groce.

"By no means am I saying he was perfect, but he played hard, he competed, he fought," Groce said. "He played with a sense of urgency that all of us have to play with."

Shaw hadn't played double-digit minutes in a game since November of 2011, when he saw 17 minutes of action in a blowout win over Chicago State. Still, he wasn't surprised when Groce called his number.

"I just had to stay ready the whole season," Shaw said. "I have to be ready at all times, even if it was another game. Whenever I get the opportunity I have to take advantage of it.

"All season (Coach Groce) has been telling me to stick with it, telling me it's hard not to play, you know, coming from high school and playing a lot to not playing, but I just have to stay positive the whole time and do what I could."

Shaw's worked himself to the fringe of the rotation and could see meaningful time in Thursday's game when the Illini play host to Northwestern. Groce maps out how the Chicago native needs to play to remain in the mix for minutes:

"I want him to be physical. I want him to rebound. I want him to block out. I want him to run the floor. I want him to screen. I want him to do the little things to help our team win like (Sam) McLaurin does. Sam does a lot of those things as well. It's a great lesson. A lot of kids think they're going to play because they make shots. He's playing tomorrow, I don't really care if he goes 0-0 or 2-2. It's not about that. Sometimes guys get locked in on, hey, the way for me to play my way into the lineup is to score. Not necessarily true. Shaw is a prime example of that. He does some of the little things that we need."

Based on Shaw's comments, he's in tune with what Groce expects.

"I think that just being aggressive, playing physical, diving on the floor, playing hard, making Matto (hustle) plays," he said of how he intends to play.

Shaw offered a sequence where Groce got exactly what he wanted out of the big man during practice Monday. As the coach related the story, first Shaw blocked a shot and then ran the floor, dove on a loose ball and then grabbed a rebound soon thereafter.

Those are the type of plays that lead to more playing time.

"Will he continue to do them? We'll see," Groce said. "Again, it's not automatic. You've got to come with the mindset every day that you're going to battle and you're going to fight. He's done that since Christmas fairly consistently. He did that in the game Saturday. He's done that the last two days in practice, and we need him to continue to do that."


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