Saturday, January 28, 2012

Barnyard Basketball

Minnesota's Barn has been almost a home away from home for the Illini in the last decade. The antithesis of the Bryce Jordan Center. Not so this season.

This one hurt. Lots. Especially with that bit of deja vu, as Illinois watched their road lead slip away at the end of regulation much like the Gophers watched their road lead slip away in Champaign. Painful.

The Illini got off to a very strong start offensively, and they looked really good in the first 6 minutes or so as they moved the ball and hit good shots. Defensively, they got a few quick ticky-tack fouls, and that came back to haunt them at the bitter end.

Then the Illini got a bit lethargic, as Minnesota came on strong, closed the gap, and took control of the game with their "second line." The Golden Gophers bench played the Illini better than their starters throughout the game.

But about halfway through the the second half, the Illini chipped away at the lead and took over again. They looked to be in good shape, but a couple big 3s and that old-fashioned 3-point play for the tie that took Meyers Leonard out of the game sucked the heart and fight out of the Illini.

Brandon Paul tried to put the Illini on his back in overtime, but momentum was with the Gophers...and the Illini got their third straight L to entrench themselves in the middle of the Conference standings.

Kudos to the Gophers for some beautiful passing for impressive assists and for finally starting to make their free throws during crunch time.

For the Illini, Paul and Leonard both had great overall games, but they also had plenty of painful, unforced turnovers, which seem to be the team's Achilles heel. They also seem to be just a bit off on their communication and timing on the boards and offensive tip-ins. Those little things can easily make a big difference in these tight Big Ten games.

So, after a solid week of practice and another road loss, will Bruce and his boys be able to pull themselves together? We will find out soon...


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