Illini Work Hard During Bye Week

The Fighting Illini basketball team is in a bye week, with no game for seven days. The players and coaches want to eliminate the bad taste in their mouths from the Michigan loss, but they must wait until their next game Saturday. In the meantime, Coach Bruce Weber has worked them hard to improve on problem areas and maintain conditioning.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber spoke about the pluses and minuses of a bye week during his most recent press conference.

"Anytime you have a bye week, if it's deep into the season it's good for the guys to have a couple days rest. To be honest, I wish we didn't have it here with no school. We've tried to keep them busy. We did give them a little time off.

"I guess the good part with Mike Davis having the tonsilitis and Chester's groin being tweaked a little, it gave those guys a couple days to get healthy. We came back Tuesday night and did individual workouts and weights, and then Wednesday we went pretty hard. We went up and down with some game simulation."

Weber elaborated on Davis' tonsils.

"It's something we addressed last spring. He had a couple bouts of tonsilitis last year, and we talked about taking them out. The glands get swollen, and he has trouble breathing, trouble eating a couple days. It's tough to go up and down the court.

Dr. Kyrouak and Al Martindale got him enough fluids. I don't think he played the Michigan game with the energy we would have needed to win. Now, with continued medication he was back full go Wednesday. I hope it doesn't reoccur during the season. I think after this we'll definitely try to take them out in May."

After two off days, Weber worked his charges hard Wednesday. Much work went into conditioning. Weber knows how easy it is for basketball players to lose their physical edge during the season.

"Phil Jackson (Los Angeles Lakers coach) talked in his book about how they would always go 4-0 in the playoffs, and the other ones would go to seven games. Even that late in the season, he was doing full 40 minute scrimmages to keep those guys in game condition.

"You don't want to lose that conditioning full court. All coaches, you want to go half court to control it and help teach. But the game's played full court, and you've got to let them go and make decisions. They've got to guard and be tired.

"When I was in my first year with Coach Keady, I don't know if we went full court until Christmas. That's just how he was. I try to force myself to go full court, and I ask my assistants to force me to do it to make sure we keep going up and down.

"Wednesday, we did a lot of up and down practice. They were calling me track coach. But we need that midweek. Other teams are playing a game, so you don't want to lose that."

The Michigan loss also gave Weber a chance to remind his players what it takes to win in a rugged conference. Players are more amenable to teaching and more likely to embrace criticism after a loss.

"We were disappointed, not losing up there at Michigan, but after watching film the execution, especially down the stretch and defensively, we were not very good. We didn't recognize things, just not very good awareness.

"They have much better attention after a loss. The video never lies. That's one of our sayings. We had seven wins in a row and good wins over Missouri and Purdue. Maybe we lost a little bit of that edge.

"We didn't play as hard against Michigan as we did before. We lost the Matto, which we've only done a few times. Our two losses were the only games our opponents scored over 70 and shot over 45% from the field. So our defense in those two games was not what it needed to be, especially on the road against a good team.

"We had such great awareness at Purdue and executed both offensively and defensively down the stretch. But we didn't do it against Michigan. Hopefully, we can learn from it and move forward."

Illinois has a chance to pad its conference record in the next couple weeks, if it can hold serve at home.

"We have a nice stretch here with 4 of 5 at home. If you're gonna be in the Big 10 race, you've got to take care of business and win your home games while trying to find a way to sneak out road games.

"But as you've seen from the scores, every game is gonna be close and competitive. Even the Michigan-Indiana game, it comes down to the last basket in overtime. I think that's probably the norm in the Big 10 this year, and it doesn't matter whether it's at home or on the road."

Weber hopes the Illini will not take the home games for granted.

"We tend to relax at home. We almost play better on the road. You go back to Vandy, the neutral court game with Georgia, South Padre, Purdue and the intensity of the games. And then you come home and, whether it's Detroit the first half, I go back to Lewis. Because of our youthfulness, we have a tendency to be much more casual and relaxed than we need to be."

Illinois has been getting excellent senior leadership, but it will need the whole team concentrating and playing well to win consistently.

"We have to have the drive and maturity. Our stabilizing forces so far have been our seniors. Chester (Frazier), Trent (Meacham), Calvin (Brock) has gotten better. I hope those guys stay consistent, but we also need the sophomores to beat the best teams at home."

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