Tuesday, January 20, 2009

They're Back

...in the top 25! Congratulations to the Illini, #25 in the AP poll and tied for #24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Their performance against Michigan and tough play at Michigan State finally got them back into the rankings after a long absence. The Illini were last ranked at the end of the 2005-06 season.

And they more than lived up to the billing against Ohio State in Champaign. The Illini dominated the game with tough defense and a great mid-range game against the Buckeye matchup zone. The 67-49 victory moves the Illini into a tie for 2nd in the conference with Minnesota.

The Illini showed great balance Tuesday night with 4 players in double figures. Mike Tisdale led the Illini scoring with 15 points, Demetri McCamey had 13, Dominique Keller had 12 off the bench plus 6 rebounds, and Chester Frazier added 10 points. And the turn-around jumpers near the top of the key were really pretty. And Keller's game off the bench was impressive, although making that potential dunk on the breakaway would have been nice.

But the most exciting part of the Illini game were the 13 steals, including 5 from Calvin Brock. That defense helped force a season-high 20 turnovers by the Buckeyes, and held leading tOSU scorer Evan Turner to only 4 points.

And the Illini ball movement was crisp and quick, with the exception of 3 consecutive turnovers to start the 2nd half. The Illini had 15 assists, and 7 of those were from McCamey. These guys embody team basketball and unselfishness, which makes them fun to watch.

The bench continues to be another key to Illini success. Keller led the Illini scoring at halftime, and Brock picked up a couple offensive rebounds for put-backs along with his steals. Alex Legion put in some good minutes, and Jeff Jordan had a handful of minutes as well. (Note: Unfortunately, Jeff's mom couldn't be there to watch him, since she was hanging out with new First Lady Michelle Obama in D.C.)

Areas for improvement exist, though. The Illini were out-rebounded 31-27, and the 3-pointers weren't falling.

But you never know who will step up in any given game. Can't wait to see what they have for Wisconsin this weekend.

Go Illini!

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