Priorities in place as end nears

By Lucas Deal

Another game, another win.

That was the battle cry coming out of the Illini locker room on Wednesday night after the Illinois basketball team knocked off Michigan 54-42 on Senior Night at the Assembly Hall.

The game featured the final performance for Chief Illiniwek and the last home games for seniors Warren Carter, Marcus Arnold and Rich McBride; yet, when it was all over, the only thing the Illini wanted to talk about was another win.

For the first time all season, it looks like this team’s priorities are finally in the right place.

Illinois is now 20-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten Conference with two regular season games to go. Despite all the struggles of recent weeks, the Illini now appear to be zeroing in on finishing the season with a bang.

“This was a key win for us,” said Illini big man Shaun Pruitt, who had eight points and seven rebounds against the Wolverines (18-10, 6-7.)

Illini head coach Bruce Weber thinks his team must use their struggles as motivation as they reach the end of the season.

“We have to focus on what we can control and appreciate what we have,” he said. “We have been courageous all year and we have to continue to do so.”

Saturday, the Illini will travel to play the Nittany Lions. Penn State is only 1-12 in the conference but has played well recently – pushing No. 1 Ohio State to the brink twice in two weeks.

The team has to make sure they don’t overlook the Nittany Lions and risk the huge letdown they got last year when Penn State upset them 66-65 at the Assembly Hall.

After that, it’s on the road to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to meet Iowa and then up to Chi-Town for the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini know a win in Iowa City would be huge for their postseason resume, but right now they’ve decided to put the blinders on and worry about one thing: winning basketball games.

Sounds like a good strategy to me.