AUSTIN, Texas - Illinois coach John Groce discusses Friday's win against Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
COACH GROCE: Well, I just, this time of year it's about surviving and advancing. So we're grateful to have the opportunity to play on Sunday. 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, that it would be that way with this group. We have done it the hard way a lot this year.
I'm proud of our guys for resilience. At one point Colorado went on a 23-0 run in the second half. And I think that in that situation a lot of teams would crack and I thought our guys continued to stay very poised. I thought the 16-2 run late in the game that was spear headed by our defense was a huge, huge part of the game. We got down five, I thought our defense made some plays for us that were big.
I want to give Colorado a lot of credit. They're down 16 coming out of the half, I thought there for the early portion of the second half for sure they were the toughest team there for that portion of the game. Continued to play, enjoyed as I told Coach Boyle before the game, watching their team on film. Really respect how hard those kids play. Respect the way they defend and the way that they rebound. And they have got a young team and it will be great to see how they move forward. I think they have got a chance to keep getting better.
Q. Have you ever been a part of a team that went through a 23-0 run and still came out and won?
COACH GROCE: I don't know if I have. I said that to the staff after the game. It was an odd game. Again, give them a lot of credit. I thought we played really well at both ends in the first half. Maybe as complete a half as we have played in a while. It was really encouraging.
Then to start the second half I didn't think our defense was quite as good at the start. The second half, I thought our offense was good again, but we didn't make shots. And then they made the run and then that's when I thought our offense sputtered a little bit.
So we used a couple timeouts there to try to refocus us back to center field a little bit. But give them a lot of credit, they were physical in the second half, they were aggressive. I thought that at both ends of the floor they were aggressive. But long answer to your question, no, I don't think I-- I mean, it was a strange game in that regard.
Q. The players were asked something similar to this, but how did you try to refocus them during timeouts, maybe try to make them forget about that run, because you were still down only maybe five points.
COACH GROCE: Well, we talk a lot about controlling the controllables. And that's the only things in the -- we talk about driving the car and looking ahead and we can't look in the rear view mirror. Nothing's going to change. The score is the score, they're not changing the score. We had to find a way to kind of grind and figure it out. I thought our defense was really good late in the game, as I mentioned at the outset here, during that 16-2 run. I thought that was the difference.
Q. Looking at shooting 13 percent in the second half, and still winning by almost double digits. How does that happen? How do the numbers add up?
COACH GROCE: I couldn't tell you. It's similar to the question that the gentleman here asked just a second ago, but we found a way. As I said at the beginning, this team, it's been a fun team to coach, an interesting team. They found ways in a lot of different situations where their backs have been against the wall and today was another prime example of that.
Q. You always say seniors die hard. Talk about Brandon and D.J., and if they were saying anything while the run was happening in the 21-0 run that Colorado had.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, they were talking about staying poised and being positive. That's what we have tried to do all year. We want positive energy around our team as much as possible. If we have an issue, I tell them, we correct it and we move on.
Obviously we talked strategy in those timeouts. But I thought those guys were very positive. I thought they did a great job of staying positive and staying poised. I thought our shot selection got a little bit away from us there when it got close and they kind of took the lead for about a maybe a four or five minute span. And then we kind of got-- that's when I meant by getting refocused. We got a little bit better at that point.
Q. Wondering how much you've watched Miami and what do you think of them as your next opponent?
COACH GROCE: Well, I don't know, obviously, a lot about them at this point. We deal one game at a time. We have done that all year. I know that they have got great size, I know they're going to play very hard. I've watched Coach Larranaga's teams, not only at Miami, but also at George Mason previously, they're very well coached. I know that Larkin is a terrific player at the guard position. I'm sure I'll learn a lot more here over the next few hours.
Q. A lot was talked about going into the game about how good they are at rebounding the ball, especially Andre Roberson. You guys actually came out on top. Talk about how well you did crashing the boards.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, sure, we did some really good things on the defensive end when you look at it as a whole. I think a big part of that was defensive rebounding. We had 11 offensive rebounds to their eight. 12 turnovers to their 15. So that's a plus six possession battle. Which I think is huge in a game that's nip and tuck like that down the stretch. I thought for the most part we did a very good job of rebounding.
Q. Did you expect to turn them over as much as you did in the first half and did you see that as a way to get your lead?
COACH GROCE: We wanted to be really aggressive. I thought that was really important. I know there's been times where they have turned the ball over here and there, as you watch them on film. But I think to say that you're going to count on them turning it over as much as they did in the first half, I don't know, that may be fools gold.
But I thought we were really aggressive in the first half, got some deflections. We were active defensively and did a good job of turning them over as well as affecting shot percentage and defensive rebounding the ball well. I thought overall as a whole our defense was pretty good, other than maybe the first, you know, five to eight minutes of the second half.
Q. I kind of know the answer to this, but do you worry that this takes a lot out of the kids to play in two days? How do you get ready to go again?
COACH GROCE: Well, they're obviously they're 18 to 22 years old. There's a reason why we do strength and conditioning, there's a reason why we play the schedule we play, we do the things we do, is to prepare for these type of moments.
I think our guys know that this is-- I said it before-- this is a special opportunity. We'll be able to, I think, rev it back up again on Sunday, no question about it. The next 48 hours is critical. We'll do a lot of things to help get their minds and bodies back.