Monday, January 10, 2005

Big Ten Victory #2

If you were like me Saturday you were watching the Fighting Illini's performance in the first half against Purdue and thinking the following:

1. Ok, we're 15-0. A loss isn't completely unexpected. Especially on the road in the Big Ten. But do we really have to lose to Purdue?

2. The longer this game goes on and the longer we stay behind the more obnoxious those Purdue fans sound. It's not like these guys even belong on the same court as us. They must've practiced all year for this game.

3. Thank goodness Billy Packer isn't doing color for CBS. However, even though he's not, Clark Kellogg is being forced to hold back his praise for us on national TV. Ummmm...time for our guards to give Kellogg a firsthand look at why they are the best in the country at playing together.

4. With road games ahead at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa (still dangerous despite a massive choke at home against Michigan) where are we gonna come up with the other road wins to pull out the Big Ten and zero in on the #1 seed in the Midwest regional? (Did I mention that Iowa not only choked at home but is starting the Big Ten season 0-2?)

5. Let's see...Kansas doesn't play until tomorrow...a game I expect them to lose (how wrong I was!)....but Carolina just pasted Maryland (even though it was at Chapel Hill).....if we lose this we drop in the rankings and all the national media starts saying how, despite the strong record, experience, etc., Illinois just isn't as good as Carolina or Kansas.

I don't know if Bruce Weber used any of these thoughts during his halftime pep talk (more likely it was a diatribe) but whatever he said sure seemed to work. (In yesterday's Sun-Times Mariotti provides a little color about Weber's timeout and halftime motivation tactics.)

The Illini came out smokin' on defense in the second half and didn't let up for the rest of the game.

Dee Brown was the catalyst, providing a tape full of highlights from just this game:

1. Will anyone ever forget him diving on the floor in the first half to save the ball from going out of bounds? Dee-Auggie-Deron-Luther-Dunk!

2. Two more almost-steals and even getting Purdue fans in the first few rows involved, landing on them while diving out of bounds with the ball and trying to call timeout.

3. Three 3-pointers over the span of 1:19 in the second half. After he put Illinois up 11, he thrusts his jersey out as if to say, "This is Illinois basketball!"

The rest is history. Solid 9-point win on the road. Luther, Auggie and the Rev all had their usual good games. Deron was off (Illinitalk believes its the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year jitters--I'm-Supposed-to-be-good-so-I-do-too-much problem) but the value of his presence on the court can't be denied.

Jack Ingram continues to impress with his play off the bench and King Rich hit some key 3-pointers when the Illini's offense stalled in the first half.

Overall a solid effort.

Next up: The Illinois starters will focus on running up a double digit lead on the Penn State Nittany Kittens as soon as possible so they can get off the court, avoid injury and give some valuable minutes of experience to the Illini bench.

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