Locked In...

With a trip to Hawaii looming, Illinois took care of St. Francis Monday.

CHAMPAIGN – Less than 24 hours from an embarking on a trip to paradise, the Illinois basketball made sure not to take a vacation against St. Francis.

The Illini cruised to an 89-64 win against the Terriers; 10 players scored at least three points each and four hit double figures. The team bussed to Chicago following the game and will jet to Hawaii Tuesday for four games over the next 10 days.

Despite the travel plans, the team took care of the matter at hand Monday thanks to a focus driven by the seniors and captains, according to coach John Groce.

"These guys from a mental standpoint practiced really well the last two days," Groce said. "We were terrific (Monday) in shootaround. We had energy all three times that we laced it up prior to (Monday's) tipoff. That's pretty special."

Perhaps the player most excited about the Hawaii trip, senior forward Tyler Griffey paced the team with 17 points and five rebounds. A frequent traveler, Griffey has a list compiled of every place he's sank a basket. Hawaii will be the 37th state he's hit a shot in.

"My wife's jealous of Griff because she likes to travel," Groce said.

Griffey shot 7 of 10 from the field, including three 3s and a couple of pull-up jumpers. He, like Groce, credited practice for his positive results.

"It just comes from practice," he said. "Practice and getting in the gym by myself. I'm feeling confident. The balls coming off well, and I'm going to keep on shooting it."

Guards Tracy Abrams (15) and Brandon Paul (14), and center Nnanna Egwu (10), joined Griffey in the scoring onslaught. Looking at the stats, it was a dominating performance in all areas. The Illini shot 49 percent for the game (44 percent from 3), won the rebounding battle (35-30) and had only eight turnovers.

There were a lot of smiles from Illinois players and coaches in the second half, due to most everybody getting into the scoring column and because the game was out of question early. "I mean it's fun. It's a fun game," Abrams said. "That's what it's for. We're supposed to come out, compete and have fun."

St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said he studied tapes of Illinois' first three games, counting the exhibitions to begin the year, to prepare for the matchup. He said the team has improved each time out and looked it's best Monday.

"They were good. They were really good," Braica said. "I think it's a credit to coach (Groce) that they've gotten better. … I thought they took another step forward."

Now, the team will play Hawaii Friday before three games in the Maui Invitational next week.

Given the surroundings, there will be a balancing act ongoing and the staff has planned some sightseeing and activities to counter the basketball schedule.

But Monday showed the team could lock in when it needed to and beat teams in the fashion expected. To Groce, it also showed his team is improving.

"We've got a chance to keep getting better with the effort that they're giving right now and the camaraderie and the morale that we have as a team and the way their coachable and teachable," Groce said. We've got a chance to continue to get better. That gives us a chance to reach our potential and hopefully get getting a little bit better everyday."


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