Saturday, March 14, 2009

Semis are Standard

The Big Ten Tournament is a relatively young event, but it's provided a stage where the Illini shine. For the 11th time in 12 years, the Illini are in the semifinals, thanks to a 60-50 victory over a tough Michigan team.

It was hard to watch Chester on the bench with the soft cast on his right hand, limiting his enthusiastic gestures to encourage his team. But there's no question that Chester was involved in the game, even though he didn't play.

Calvin Brock stepped up with excellent primary defense on Michigan's leading scorer, Manny Harris. Brock and the rest of the team held Harris to just 9 points. Jeff Jordan also contributed solid minutes off the bench, including a highlight-reel steal and assist to Calvin.

The Illini played well, matching the Wolverines in the first half, and pulling away with an impressive run early in the second half. Then they withstood the Wolverine's second-half run and hit key shots and free throws down the stretch.

There was lots to like. Mike Davis led the Illini with a pretty shot, plus 22 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Passing was sharp, and the open man often passed the ball to the more-open man. Trent dished out 5 assists, and Demetri was steady, with 12 points and 6 rebounds. And the Illini recovered from their losing streak that finished off the regular season.

But, reaching their 7th Big Ten Tourney final will be a challenge. It's not easy to beat a good team 3 times in one season, so I would have faced Penn State than Purdue today. But the Boilermakers took care of business, so Bruce Weber and Matt Painter will face off for the 3rd time this season.

Purdue is getting healthier and playing very well. And the Illini will miss Chester. This will be a very tough game for the Illini. Defense is the calling card for both teams, so expect a battle. The Illini will need to rebound well and make what shots they get, besides playing their defensive game.

Go Illini!

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