Friday, December 23, 2011

Lost in Transition

The 2011 Braggin' Rights game was frantic. The quick pace contributed to a bit of sloppy play for the Illini, with lots of turnovers. But a key reason they were down much of the game was the poor transition defense. They often got lost, leading to an abundance of easy shots for Mizzou.

First-year Missouri coach Frank Haith did something new for a man in his position in the Braggin' Rights game. He won.

Mizzou drove into a very open lane a few too many times, both in their fast-break and half-court offenses. The Illini defense struggled to stay with their men, while on the other end, the Illini had more than their share of forced and unforced turnovers.

Many of the Illini issues are fixable...hit open shots, go stronger after rebounds and loose shots, work harder for stickier man-to-man defense, communicate better in the passing game. For as many of the 40 (or more) minutes as possible. Oh, and those unforced turnovers when you are on a run - those aren't necessary.

The Tigers are a very talented team, used to beating teams by well over 20 points per game. And credit Missouri - whenever the Illini took the lead, they came up with a big play and/or took advantage of an Illini mistake. This was a very tough test for the Illini. Although they lost, there were bright spots.

Down 14 points on multiple occasions, the Illini didn't give up. They fought hard, and when Mizzou started turning the ball over and missing tough shots midway through the second half, the Illini capitalized.

And a big part of that comeback was Joseph Bertrand off the bench. The promise he showed when he signed out of Sterling Illinois a few years ago. A redshirt sophomore, he had a career night with 19 points and 5 rebounds. Brandon Paul added 19 points, and Meyers Leonard had another strong double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

It's hard to watch a great comeback fall short, but if the Illini build on this game, they will be in good shape for Big Ten Conference play.

So, Bruce and boys, enjoy a Merry Christmas despite the loss, and then get focused on the challenge that is the conference.

Go Illini!

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