Notes: Effort a primary focus heading into tournament season

Mar. 11—IOWA CITY, Iowa. — Illinois followed its Wednesday day off with a Thursday practice that had nothing to do with preparing for Sunday's regular-season finale, a 73-61 win by the 12th-ranked Illini at Iowa. At least in terms of anything the Hawkeyes might do.

Brad Underwood used that Thursday practice to reinforce some fundamental tenets of the program. Like rebounding. And diving on the floor for loose balls. Hustle plays the Illini coach felt were missing during Tuesday's loss to Purdue.

The basics of playing hard. Underwood's ultimate goal. Which he can drill down on this week before the team heads to Minneapolis for the Big Ten tournament.

"I write a saying on the board before every game, 'Know the thrill of an all-out effort,'" Underwood said. "I'm not sure we've been living up to that. We've got to do that. We've got great athletes who can go play hard and dive on the floor for loose balls and grab rebounds. It's got to be an unbridled, passionate play hard. We'll see if that continues.

"It's a shame when playing hard is not the every day norm. It's a learned skill. ... We've got to compete. We've got to guys competing on the glass. Guys not thinking and just playing and playing hard, and if they make a mistake, they make a mistake."

The message seemed to have sunk in with the Illinois players, who have just two guaranteed games remaining on the schedule. One each in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

"We know we can't let that happen again," Illinois sophomore guard Ty Rodgers, referencing the lack of hustle plays and rebounds late against Purdue. "Those little plays, it's March time now. It's pretty much win or go home. We've got to be able to get all those loose rebounds, all the loose balls. All the hustle plays matter."

★ ★ ★

Sunday's game in Iowa City was a sellout and just the second this season for the Iowa men's team. The combination of regular-season finale with Illinois in town likely helped, with a fairly strong rivalry renewed between the two programs the past five seasons.

Either Illinois or Iowa has had an All-American in each of the past four seasons. Sometimes both. And a streak that could continue with the Illini's Terrence Shannon Jr. this season. Both programs have also won at a high level, finishing in the top half of the Big Ten during that stretch.

"It's just one of those that's had every intangible line up for a good rivalry game," Underwood said. "It was that before, but I think it's been amped up pretty good because we've both been pretty good and had great players on the court.

"I think both (Iowa coach Fran McCaffery) and I are really, really competitive. I've got so much respect for his job developing players. ... We're fighting for league championships. We're fighting for seedings. It's close. It's a passionate fan base."

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Coleman Hawkins said he "tweaked" his left knee trying to track down a bal during Tuesday's game against Purdue. It's the same knee that cost the Illinois forward three games early in the season and the same knee that's still not been 100 percent since, with the pounding it's taken throughout the season.

Hawkins said he "should be fine" the rest of the season as he continues to manage the pain.

"He's got all spring to figure out how to get that right," Underwood said. "It's part of going through a 30-game season. He was great (Friday) in practice. It's a maintenance issue for Coleman. It has been all year. I think he's in a pretty good spot."

Rodgers said Hawkins has done a "great job fighting through" the injury to stay on the court.

"He's always in here first with (athletic trainer Paul Schmidt)," Rodgers continued. "He's in here hours early getting that treatment in. He's done a great job managing and doing what he can. I think he's done a great job of playing through it, fighting through it and being mentally strong."

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"Booty ball" was new to Dan Domask this season. At least the phrase. The action behind it was nothing the former Waupun (Wis.) High School basketball coach hadn't seen before.

Watch any of Marcus Domask's high school highlights, and you'll see the now Illinois guard attacking mismatches in the mid-post and low post. Dan was reminded of that after he saw someone post those highlights on social media recently.

"I watched it and I was like, 'You know, he's pretty much doing everything in that video. That's like him now,'" Dan said.

Marcus played four seasons for his dad at Waupun. The Warriors' won a state championship during Marcus' freshman season and finished as state runners-up during his senior year. And Dan wanting to make the most of Marcus' ball-handling ability and strength to finish around the rim was key in those runs.

Underwood has done the same this season.

"It's been part of his game," Dan said of his son. "The name changed, but the action was the same. As a coach, I call it a 'Barkley.' I give credit to Charles for really creating that. It's something I worked on in high school. Add in more backdowns. He didn't really have the turnaround jumper, but the backdown into right and left, he was doing that."

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The IHSA state tournaments wrapped up Saturday night at State Farm Center with a pair of first-time state champions in Winchester West Central and Homewood-Flossmoor in Class 1A and Class 4A, respectively. Chicago Phillips' Class 2A title was its first since 1975, and DePaul Prep was a repeat champ despite moving up from Class 2A to Class 3A.

Saturday's slate of championship games also marked the end of the initial three-year contract between the IHSA and the University of Illinois to host the state tournaments. The expectation, though, is for a five-year extension to keep the games on the Illini campus — a move Underwood fully supports.

"To me, it just makes so much sense," the Illini coach said. "I'm not knocking Peoria, where it was before, or any other place who might want it. To me, scholastic events being on the campus of the University of Illinois — the biggest campus we have in the state — it just makes sense. I think it's an honor to play here, in that building, for high school kids. I think it's something they look forward to.

"I think it's a great destination to be excited about getting to every year. ... I haven't had long conversations with the IHSA, but I hope they are as pleased as we are to have it, and hopefully, it stays here for many years to come."