Illinois’ loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season is still fresh in the mind of the players.

The Illini are set for Friday’s first-round matchup against Chattanooga in Pittsburgh, and using last year as motivation.

“We’re more focused, more locked in,” Trent Frazier said. “…We’re trying to kill anything that is in front of us.”

Added Kofi Cockburn, “Our loss last year was a learning lesson. …You never know when the season might end.”

It’s Cockburn, who spurned the NBA Draft for these kinds of games, and he’s had another solid season, as he averages 21 points and 10 rebounds per game, which is why he’s a Wooden Award finalist.

Frazier also said the keys to slowing down Chattanooga’s guards are not different from slowing down great guards in the Big Ten.

Coach Brad Underwood added that it’s a wonderful experience to be back in March Madness, and he is glad to have the media and fans back to make the annual event somewhat back to normal. It’s exciting.

Illinois finished the regular season atop the Big Ten but lost in a quarterfinal to Indiana in the waning seconds of play. Chattanooga, in a complete 180 from the Illini, made a last-gasp buzzer-beater in overtime to clinch their bid. The Mocs have also won 9 of their last 11 games.

H/T Jeremy Werner.