Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not This Year

All good things must come to and end, or so "they" say. That was true for the 9-year/game Illini win streak in the annual Braggin' Rights game against Mizzou.

The Illini seem to be lethargic on neutral courts and on the road, and they will have to fix that to compete in the Big Ten. But credit Mike Anderson's Tigers, as they played an impressive game.

Although the Illini struggled in most parts of their game, they stayed in it until about the last 5 to 6 minutes. That they were only down 6 at that point didn't show their constant turnovers (22 -- ouch!) and ice-cold shooting (there was more than one point-blank shot, layup or dunk that didn't get finished off). All to prove that this Illini team is not too bad, even when they are playing poorly. The final score was much more indicative of the way Bruce's boys played in St. Louis.

The Illini rebounded well at times, although Mizzou showed more hustle. And Bruce worked hard to coach his boys up during the game, with timely breaks in the action. Down low, both Tisdale and Davis finished with double-doubles. But the Illini just weren't all there. Without their normally on-target shooting and with a tendancy to pass to Mizzou instead of each other, they just didn't play Illini basketball.

The Tigers were hungry. They played with intensity that was bolstered by "mcdougtastic" shooting (concensus term from the game-watching party I attended). And with what commentator Steve Lavin termed the "Emerald City green light" to take opportunistic shots and "share the sugar", Mizzou took the Illini defense apart. [Side note: Lavin's commentary often leaves me scratching my head...he comes up with some rather ridiculous terms to fill the air waves.] The number of open 3s and jump shots that they buried will back up Coach Weber's claims that this year's Illini aren't quite there defensively yet. But Mizzou also made their share of impressive tough shots, even though they had several bounce out from halfway through the rim.

So the Tigers just barely managed to get their Braggin' Rights for this decade. As disappointing as the Illini play and this loss is, at least the Orange and Blue have owned this one since the turn of the century.

Next up -- the conference opener against a surprising Northwestern team. But first, enjoy the holidays. Here's hoping Santa drops off a bit of intensity, a hunger to win and a more consistent shooting touch for all of the team.

Merry Christmas!

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