The Best and Worst

Illinois played great for 20 minutes against Colorado, followed by one of it's poorest stretches of the season in the second half. For a team that's been hit or miss, Friday was the status quo.

AUSTIN, Texas - Excited to win in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years? You bet.

Relieved for not blowing a double-digit halftime lead? No doubt. There was a mix of emotions in the Illinois locker room Friday following it's 57-49 win against Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The win advanced the Illini into the third round to face No. 2 Miami, a chance to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2005.

The celebration, however, was accompanied by questions from the media about the dismal play in the second half, where the Illini hit 3 of 22 shots and managed only three points in the first 11:30 of the final segment.

Frustration gave way to resiliency and toughness as seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul led the comeback after getting down by as many as five points with nine minutes to play.

And since the Illini have been hit or miss for most of the season, why would the pattern stop now?

"I thought it was only fitting that the game was maybe about as strange a game in terms of the ebb and flow of the game that I've been associated with," Groce said. "We have done it the hard way all year."

At this point, senior Sam McLaurin said, facing adverse situations is almost second nature, something expected for a team that's 7-0 this season in games decided by five points or less.

"We've done this a couple times, so guys don't have a problem keeping their poise," McLaurin said.

Friday's final margin wasn't less than five points, but it was grind-it-out style, a harrowing way to live in March but a win nonetheless.

It wouldn't be so frustrating if the Illini didn't show the capability that they did in the first half.

Locked in defensively, they held Colorado to 37 percent shooting and scored 15 points off eight Buffaloes turnovers.

Offensively, the team was aggressive but under control, stepping into good shots from the 3-point line with confidence and attacking the basket when the situation called for it.

It was one of the best 20 minutes of basketball Illinois played all season.

It was then followed by one of the worst 10 minute stretches. But when it mattered most, they refused to bow out of the World's Greatest Tournament early, finishing the game on an 18-5 run.

"Down the stretch things weren't going well for us," Paul said. "But we kept playing, kept fighting.

"We got guys that continue to make plays and now we're on to the next. Our focus was on Colorado. Now it's on Miami."

At this point, where winners play on and losers go home, it's absolutely true to say the way you win doesn't matter. But the way you're playing does mean something moving forward.

Can the Illini remain confident if a team with the caliber of talent like Miami has goes on a double digit scoring run Sunday? Will they be able to withstand a major blow and make a comeback against the ACC Champs? Will one stellar half preceded or followed by a subpar one be enough to reach the Sweet Sixteen?

The real question is, do you really want to find out?

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