Following 3 games in week, Illini basketball gets some needed rest

Illinois’ Jaylon Tate (01) dribbles around a defender against Nebraska at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2013. The Illini won 60-49.

After three games in seven days, the Illini are bruised and battered. Backup point guard Jaylon Tate hurt his ankle against Michigan State on Saturday and Joseph Bertrand went down with a knee injury Tuesday, shortening his senior night short.

Illinois coaches and players are not available for the media until Friday, so no update on the injuries will be given until then.

Tate tried to play against the Wolverines, rehabbing his ankle Monday and Tuesday and even going through the team shoot-around before the game.

“He couldn’t move enough for us to put him out there,” head coach John Groce said following the loss. “(Athletic Trainer Paul Schmidt) will give me an update on him, and, hopefully, we’ll have him back on Saturday.”

Groce said Schmidt did not think Bertrand’s injury was serious, but they benched him as a precaution following his injury midway through the first half Tuesday.


Next man up

With Tate unavailable Tuesday, sophomore walk-on Mike LaTulip made his first appearance in a game since Jan. 8, when Illinois lost at Wisconsin.

LaTulip had played a fair amount early in the non-conference season, but saw his minutes dwindle and then did not play for nearly two months. He played seven minutes against Michigan and went 0-for-2 from behind the 3-point arc.

“He had practiced well for a couple weeks imitating the opposing teams’ players really well,” Groce said. “He got in there, and he battled in there, got a couple good looks. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Mike, he’s a great shooter, he just missed them.”

The way the Wolverines shot, it might not have mattered whom Groce subbed into the game. Tuesday was Michigan’s night. Groce realized that and told his team the same things he’s been telling them all year.

“The game (Tuesday) doesn’t erase the fact that the previous two or three weeks we’ve played the best we have all year,” Groce said. “That’s actually a larger body of work than one game.”


Recovering from the ‘perfect storm’

Groce remembers five games in his six years as a head coach like Tuesday night: One team playing the best they have all year, the other not so much. After the loss, he called it a ‘perfect storm.’

Michigan shot Illinois out of the gym Tuesday in what was the worst loss in State Farm Center history. There really weren’t too many ways to interpret the 84-53 loss.

“This was not real complicated. They played great,” Groce said about Michigan after the game.

When the Miami Heat’s LeBron James scored 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night, he said it felt like he was throwing a golf ball in the ocean. Michigan had a taste of that feeling, shooting 78.6 percent from 3-point range in the Big Ten title clinching victory.

“We really couldn’t give them any space,” Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice said. “If we were giving them space, they were hitting the shot.”

But as they have all year, the Illini will try to push this one from their memory and focus on Iowa, who Illinois will visit Saturday in the regular season finale.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.