Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't Stop Now

Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt just aren't ready to go home. Pruitt played strong inside, (although it would have been nice to give him the ball a bit more often in the second half) and made his free throws (6 of 7 -- not bad, big guy). Randle did lots of little things, made big baskets, and stayed out of foul trouble. The senior starters led the Illini in scoring.

It wasn't pretty. Turnovers and other mistakes were evidence of fatigue for both the Gophers and the Illini. The injury no-call clock thing and Brock's swollen eye with 7.8...I mean 8.0...I mean 4.7 seconds left summed up the game. [Please note that Hoffarber slaps well with his right hand, even though he is left-handed. The ESPN College GameDay crew acknowledged their error in claiming he was a righty during their coverage of his miracle shot to knock off the Hoosiers.] Both teams looked like they were playing their 3rd tough game in 3 days, with lots of missed shots, passes and plays.

But the Illini have Tubby's number this season, as they extend their win streak against the Golden Gophers to 20 games. The Gophers almost recovered from the momentum swing after Tubby's 10:25 timeout that sparked a quick Illini run, and I was pretty nervous when Calvin lost the ball off his own leg with about 18 seconds left and only a 4-point lead. [Personal side note: At least I was watching, as I understand some -- my brother included -- didn't make the effort. Why would you choose emptying a moving truck over this?] But the Illini pulled it out, and now have the privilege of facing Wisconsin Sunday afternoon.

The Illini will be the second double-digit seed to reach the Big Ten Tourney final. The first? The '99 Illini reached the title game as an 11 seed, where they lost to top seed Michigan State. And Iowa won 4 games in 4 days in '01 to win the tournament. So anything is possible.

Wisconsin will be a tough game. They will be quite a bit fresher than the Illini, and they expected to reach the final. But the Illini are clearly on a mission. I just hope the boys packed enough clean underwear for 4 days in Indy...

Go Illini!

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