- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Illinois coach John Groce said Wednesday he hopes his team's practices will improve leading up to the Illini's season opener against Colgate on Friday.
Groce was displeased with Illinois' practice on Tuesday and also believed one of its practices last week was subpar and resulted in a disappointing performance during a 75-66 preseason win over West Chester on Sunday.
"I thought (practice Tuesday) was more about focus," Groce said. "I tell them all the time, you got to have a mindset to deliberately practice well. And you can't just show up, get stretched by the strength coach and warm-up drills start at 4:10 or 4:30 depending on what time we're practicing, and hope you're going to have a good practice. It doesn't work that way. That's not how you prepare.
"I'm trying to teach them right now on how mentally to prepare for practice. One of their goals is to be more consistent. Well, to do that you have to practice more consistent. You have to bring it every day. You have to be unflappable. You can't have excuses. You got to show up. You got to raise the bar. You have to compete every day. And (Tuesday), I didn't think we had it more mentally than anything else."
Groce admitted he didn't well sleep on Tuesday night because of the bad practice, but he also wants everyone in the program to feel that way.
"Once that starts to bother the 14 guys on the team and starts to bother everybody on the staff and it filtrates your culture, then you really got something there," Groce said. "We weren't really good (Tuesday) after a day off. Now we got two days, (Wednesday and Thursday), to make sure we're ready for Friday night's game. That's what we can control at this point. We got to make sure we're better today than we were yesterday."
Groce won't hold back on pushing his players in practice leading up to the game.
"We'll drill hard no matter what time of year, no matter the day," Groce said. "That never changes. The time will change. We'll scale back in terms of time a day before the game, and we'll have less contract."
Groce also said he hadn't determined a startling lineup or rotation for Friday, but he had a couple lineups in mind. He started Sam McLaurin, Nnanna Egwu, D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand and Tracy Abrams on Sunday.
Groce said he understands who starts matters to the players, but he believes other factors are more important.
"I always say freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to score and seniors want to win," Groce said. "And you hope that's not true all the time. Some of the younger guys can figure that out earlier. Obviously, I think one of the reasons it's important to be honest is how many questions we have we had so far regarding rotations and starters. I think some of that stems from (the media.) I get it. I do think in my opinion it is a little bit overrated.
"It's about who finishes the game, who plays well in the time they're out there, who is productive in per minute played, who plays on defense how we want to play while they're out there, who does their job."
Groce believes Colgate, which went 8-22 last season and tied for 28th in the nation in three-point percentage (38.4), could present some trouble for the Illini.
"We're going to be challenged at defending the 3 at a high level," Groce said. "They run a lot of good stuff, a lot of good actions. They're going to put us in a situation where we're going to be forced to communicate, which is what this team needs. We're looking for our transition defense to be a lot better than it was on Sunday, as well as the Lewis exhibition game. Hopefully, we make some strides there. They're a team that transitions the ball and tries to strike early, so it'll transition our transition defense. We need that."
Poor practices are bothering Groce as the Illini prepare for their opener.