Groce Q&A: Pre-Nebraska

Coach John Groce spoke with the media prior to Illinois' matchup with Nebraska.

Opening statement...

JG: "Obviously we had three pretty rigorous days of practice. (Monday) we went hard but not quite as long, just trying to execute better, play a little bit better, do things better both at the offensive and defensive end. I think right now it's more of an execution issue where we've got to play better, make better plays. We've got to take care of the ball better, we've got to shoot better and we've got to execute rotations better on defense. We've got to defend the 3 better. Our execution of details has got to get better and I think over the last two or three days we've certainly gotten better. I think our guys are excited to get back out. It seems like we've had a couple games where we've had four days in-between, so they're ready to get going, ready to get on the plane and get out there and compete."

The players talked about holding a player's only meeting this weekend? What do you think of that?

JG: 'That's their meeting. That's their team. I don't think it's a bad thing. Obivously they care, they've cared for a long time. That hasn't changed because we lost some games. Doesn't surprise me because ultimately it is their team. These seniors, their deal is winding down and they don't have a lot left. They've got a few months left, and they're trying to maximize the most out of it and get the most out of it and hold each other a little bit more accountable on their end. I think that's a good thing."

There's different types of leaders and kinds of leadership. Who is providing leadership for this team right now?

JG: "Well, the captains obviously. They're the ones that were selected by their peers. They're the ones that those guys chose them to follow them. They're going to follow who they want to follow. That's why we let them pick the captains. Now we educate them on what we're looking for in a captain and what we expect and the responsibility that that entails, but really all four of those guys. Abrams and McLaurin and Richardson and Paul, to whom much is given much is expected. All four of them kind of have an equal share in that deal as voted on by their teammates to make them captain. Obviously a lot of those guys that i just mentioned are experienced, especially with Sam and D.J. and Brandon. They've been doing it a while, and I think it's really good that they're taking responsibility to play better."

What do you need from those leaders specifically against Nebraska?

JG: "We need them to play better. We can't run into screens. Got to make open shots. Got to take care of the basketball. You can't turn the ball over 18 times in a 60-something possession game like we did on Thursday night. We've got to play better. The answer as I said before, it's not rocket science. You've got to take care of the ball, you've got to get quality possessions on offense, you've got to be able to affect field goal percentage and/or turn the opponent over, we've got to defend better. We've got to execute better. We've got to play better. The great thing for them is that they know they have. They know they have the capability of playing better, they have played some really good basketball this season, so they've got that to rely on knowing that they're fully capable of playing better than what we have here the last couple games. Now it's up to us and as a staff and as players to play and coach better. We need better execution."

What do you make of the great start in non-conference compared to the tough start in Big Ten play? How hard is it to coach in this conference?

JG: 'Well it's not easy. It's the highest level of college basketball. It's a great league. Great coaches, great players. Everybody wants the same thing. We talked about that before conference play started. Everybody is fighting tooth and nail to improve this time of year and grind out games. It's a great league. Based on who we played in non-conference, that doesn't mean the Butlers and Gonzagas and those people, they're really good, too. They're good. They're real good. We've just got to play better, regardless if it's a conference game or non-conference game, January, February, we've got to play better. You know, if we want different results we've got to play better. I think our guys are well aware of that."

What are your thoughts about Nebraska?

JG: "It starts with (Dylan) Talley and (Ray) Gallegos. Those guys can put big numbers up. Both guys can get you for 25 or 30 on a given night. They're both very explosive scoring. (Brandon) Ubel is back after being out for two weeks with a fractured elbow. He played his first game back over the weekend in their win. They've been very competitive in other games as well, whether it was in East Lansing or Wisconsin at home. They were right there in those games that I watched on tape. I think they play really hard. I think they defend. One of the things that's really happened for them is with Ubel being out, (David) Rivers as well as Shavon Shields really had to kind of amplify their role a little bit. Shavon Shields is averaging 24 points a game in the last two games. Rivers went 8-for-8 from the field and was a big reason why the game in East Lansing against Michigan State went right to the wire. So he's gotten better, Shields has gotten better, and now they add Ubel back who is a double figure scorer and 6-foot-10. I think they're, they've got to probably feel pretty good when they fought through that deal when Ubel was out. You can tell that they're getting better, and I'm sure they've got a lot of confidence coming off their win on Saturday."

Have your players talked about last year's game (a 80-57 loss in Lincoln)?

JG: "They haven't. We haven't talked a whole lot about that. That's irrelevant, has nothing to do with the game (Tuesday)."

Back to the leadership, can you talk about what you've seen in this area during this recent stretch?

JG: "The fact that they've gotten together to hold each other more accountable is a good sign. I think their effort level has been good in practice, as it was for the most part over the last couple weeks, too. We don't have an effort issue on our team, we don't. Our guys play pretty hard. There's times where during the course of a game I wish we'd come out a little more aggressive, but we've played 19 games and there's probably been maybe a couple where I thought we needed a little bit more competitive toughness but other than that that's about it. The other ones we've played hard. The kids compete in practice. They've competed in the games. We've got good chemistry. Our guys are playing for the right reasons and wanting to play the right way and they want to get better. That's what gives them a chance to play better basketball. Our deal is strictly execution right now. We have to defend the 3-point line better. We have to defend screening actions better. We have to rebound consistently. We have to have better quality possessions on offense. We have to screen better. We have to move the ball better. Ours is strictly execution at this point. All those little details matter, especially if you're not flame throwing it, 15 3s in a game it really gets amplified. Now we've got to do all those little things. You know, you might have a night where you don't make 10 to 15 3s, so you've got to do all those little things, especially in conference play when scouting gets amped up and familiarity starts to breed contempt. You've got to be tough, and you've got to find a way to execute little details. I think our guys are figuring out how important that is, and they're starting to hold each other more accountable. I've certainly felt that more over the last couple days."

Knowing what's ahead on the schedule, how important is it to get this win on the road?

JG: "I think it's important to play well. I can't control some things, but we need to play well. I think that's what's really important. We need to come out aggressive, and we need to play well. I think we need to execute better on the things we've been working on and we need to play well. That other stuff takes care of itself, but I do think we need to play better. I'm anticipating us playing better than what we did the last couple days. We've got to play better."

What is the plan with the starting lineup moving forward? Will Sam McLaurin remain a starter with Tyler Griffey coming off the bench?

JG: "That's where we're leaning at this point. … I thought Tyler played really well coming off (the bench). Obviously he's going to play starter-type minutes, Lord willing. More than likely that's the way we're leaning."

What do you think of the job Nebraska Coach Tim Miles is doing in his first season?

JG: "Well, one thing about Tim is every situation where he's coached previously they got better while he was there. They improved and you can tell he's really good at building, and I'm sure he's going to do that same thing at Nebraska. I didn't know him very well before I got the job, but I've gotten the chance to see him at Big Ten meetings and talk to him a little bit. I think his kids compete. I think he's doing a real good job at putting the personnel that he has in the best position to be successful and I think he's going to continue to do what he's done in all his previous stops and that's just build."


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