It's amazing how some things can turn so fast.
Minutes after the #11 ranked Fighting Illini's 68-61 loss to Purdue on Wednesday night in West Lafayette, members of Illini Nation were quick to point out all of the glaring weaknesses of their beloved, and in the process, signaling out coach John Groce as not having the team mentally prepared for the task at hand. After all, the Illini were supposed to beat the Boilermakers for the first time in eight tries, but there is something about Purdue and their hold on the Illini, and it just doesn't end at men's basketball. The football team has lost six out of the last seven games to Purdue, and the women's basketball team has dropped eight of the last nine games, including another heart breaker this year, the second straight loss that has befallen the Illini in this fashion. Such dominance is puzzling, and the Illini are trying anything that they can think of to break the stranglehold that the Boilermakers have over them.
The loss to the Boilermakers dropped the Illini record to 13-2, so you ask what the big deal is? Remember that this is Illini Nation that we are talking about, and that the temperment of the fan base can change at a moment's notice. Everyone knew that the Big Ten would be very tough this season, but this was a Purdue team that was supposed to be rebuilding, and the Illini had the matchup advantage. This is what is tough to swallow for the Illini fan base, and even though they had a chance to run away and hide with the victory, they couldn't control the edge in rebounding and toughness, and ended up dropping the game. That being said, Groce said at his press conference to preview the Ohio State game on Saturday (1:15 pm CT, BTN) that the practice on Thursday was not intended for the meek. What he meant by that, according to guard Brandon Paul, was that is was a physical practice with a lot of rebounding drills. The Buckeyes, who are currently ranked #8 in the nation, come into the game with the Illini at 11-2 overall, and won their conference opener in Columbus over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday night. The relationship between Groce and Ohio State coach Thad Matta goes back a long ways, as far back as when Groce was in high school in Decatur, Indiana. Groce's high school coach was Todd Lickliter, who would later coach Matta at Butler University. When Matta became the coach at Butler, he had Groce as an assistant and later brought him to Columbus with him. Groce has never coached against Matta in a regular season game, and doesn't really play up the fact that the two are good friends. "When the ball goes up in the air, both he (Matta) and I will be focused on the game and all that other stuff will take a back seat", Groce said of coaching against him. Regardless of how the game against the Buckeyes turns out, the Illini know that they have to control the boards, something that just hasn't been happening.
Fresh off of his first major upset over a top 10 team, Coach Matt Bollant has his Fighting Illini women's basketball team playing some competitive basketball. Coming into the game with #6 Georgia last Friday night at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, the Illini knew that they were in for a battle. Karisma Penn realized that, and responded with a monster game, scoring 27 points and grabbing 19 rebounds to help lead the Illini to a 70-59 upset over the Bulldogs. Big Ten play began earlier this week at home against nemesis Purdue, a team that defeated the Illini a year ago on a three-pointer at the buzzer. Thinking lightning couldn't strike again, the Illini played the Boilers tough, but once again fell to #14 Purdue 67-66 in overtime. Adrienne GodBold returned to action with a double-double, scoring 20 points and snaring 11 rebounds. A last second shot by Kersten Magrum fell short, sending the Illini (7-6, 0-1) to defeat. The Illini will travel to Columbus, Ohio on Sunday to face the Buckeyes (1:00 pm CT, No TV).