Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pass, Set, Spike!

Oops, that's volleyball. I mean, block!

The Illini defense showed up in Bloomington, ready to reject anything the Hoosiesr put near the basket. At halftime, the Illini had more blocks than the Hoosiers had made baskets. The way they approached the basketball, the Illini looked like they had spent a little time with Don Hardin's volleyball team. Along with blocks, the Illini recorded 14 assists on 17 baskets in one of the best halves they played this season.

The second half was a different story, but the Illini held on to get a second road win this week 65-52 over the Hoosiers.

Beyond the 10 blocks (although if I was doing the stats, I may have added one or two more), the Illini dominated the boards on both ends, with 35 total, and 12 offensive rebounds, compared to 23 for Indiana, including 6 offensive. Mike Davis had 10 rebounds, leading the Illini as a forward should. Crisp passing allowed them to dominate in the paint and with open mid-range jumpers until the Hoosiers made a strong run near the end of the game. It also gave the Mikes 16 points each. The Illini bench also showed up, with significant contributions from everyone on the floor. Calvin Brock and Jeff Jordan stepped up with Demetri McCamey under the weather. And Jordan and Alex Legion provided a nice defense/offense complement in the final minutes. And although Brock drew a legitimate technical after his dunk, he still provided the energy his teammates have come to expect. Chester Frazier led the team on the floor, delivering 7 assists and adding 7 rebounds and 9 points, including critical baskets to stem the Hoosier momentum late in the game.

The Illini couldn't close out the game they way they wanted to after leading by 21 in the first half, but they held on. However, (as hard as it is to admit) credit must be given to Tom Crean and his Hoosiers. They have improved dramatically all season, and Crean will have the Hoosiers where they expect to be relatively soon. His guys played hard, and they didn't give up. Perhaps what surprises me most is the support the Indiana fans have given Crean as he works to rebuild a program after the disaster Sampson left. The Hoosiers filled Assembly Hall and made it tough for the Illini to play, even though their team has just 1 Big Ten win. The main reason I'm surprised? Tom Crean is a quality coach AND person. The latter usually struggles in Bloomington.

So, Illini fans, enjoy the sweep of the Hoosiers this year. But don't expect this to be a regular occurance in this storied rivalry. And don't expect Weber and Crean to provide the drama Henson and Knight provided once upon a time.

The remaining schedule for the season will be tough, but the Illini are in good shape as they look to welcome Penn State to Champaign this week.

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