If you were at the Illinois-Memphis
game Saturday night, or even if you watched it on television, you
had to feel a similar feeling of anticipation inside yourself. And
when the Tigers stretched their first-half lead to 19-9 your
anticipation may have been buried in the deepest recesses of your
very existence. The Illini were not only continuing to miss their
free throws, they were having trouble seeing any of their shots even
approach the rim. Several first-half swats, deflections and vicious
blocks by Memphis had you wondering if Illinois would bounce back
against the talented Tigers.
You also knew that you were going up
against one of the best coaches in the nation in the form of one
But then it happened. The "magic" of
the Assembly Hall, kicked in. This time it took the form of freshman
Richard McBride. And when he hit his first shot he ignited the
crowd, as 16,618 released their long-awaited anticipation at exactly
the same time.
The Hall began to rock. It may STILL be
rocking. Memphis eventually succumbed and became just another vital
statistic: the 30th straight non-conference team to leave Assembly
Hall with a big L. As good as Calipari is, he forgot to take the
Magic of the Hall into consideration in his game plan. If you're
going to beat the Illini in Champaign, you're going to need more
than a slick suit and a fancy haircut… 'cause the magic's going to
And get them it did. McBride and
Augustine put the Illini on their backs and carried them to victory.
It was a sight to behold and… it was the game I wanted. Why did I
want it so bad? I want all of them, but I think this was a huge game
with gigantic implications. I know that there is still a long season
ahead, and some people say don't worry if you lose this one. I don't
think so. You lose this one and you might lose the team or even the
Our collective confidence was on the
ropes. You could see it during the first 12 minutes of the game.
Players were looking at each other, waiting to see who and if anyone
would step forward. Richard McBride stepped forward. James Augustine
answered the call. Roger Powell did his part. Nick Smith made some
big shots at critical times. Brian Randle was solid. But it was the
play of Dee Brown that also got my attention.
Yes, I know that McBride and Augustine
were sensational. But, when you lose a player like Deron Williams,
who is so pivotal to your success, most teams have no answer.
Look around the Big Ten and see how
many teams are struggling without a starting point guard. Illinois
doesn't have that problem. Any more questions on why the Illini
wanted BOTH Williams and Brown? Didn't think so.
Dee was as cool as the other side of
the pillow. Obviously, his shots are not dropping with the
regularity we've all become accustomed to, but there's more to
basketball than being the nightly scoring leader. Dee knew that.
That's why he's farther up the leadership ladder than most people
realize. He was everywhere Saturday night -- huddling up teammates,
charting out the next play down the court and encouraging everyone
on and off the playing surface. He finished the night with five
points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Dee made sure that while McBride had
the hot hand, he would get the rock. He also got the ball to Augie
deep in the paint to hurt the Tigers inside. He also moved his
defensive point of pickup out to the timeline, which really
frustrated the Memphis guards.
To his credit, Augustine really came up
big as well. He finished the night with 21 points, eight rebounds
and an improved performance from the charity stripe. His physical
play without committing silly fouls is something Illinois will need
to be successful all year. He was fighting and working for position
all night, and he was freeing up Powell and Smith. They knocked down
a few shots -- enough to hurt the Tigers and crush any hopes of a
But how 'bout the play of Richard
McBride? Talk about your breakout games?! That was an explosion!
McBride -- whose line showed 22 points, five rebounds, five assists
and no turnovers -- nailed six trifectas, but none bigger than the
one he fired in as the first half expired. He was fired up. His
teammates mobbed him on their jubilant jaunt to the locker room.
But something bigger happened. The look
on their faces had changed. They weren't going to lose this game.
You could see it and you could feel it. If McBride plays even half
that well this season, the Illini will be a force to be reckoned
Coach Weber has been accused of having
dumbfounded looks from the sidelines. This time it was the usually
unflappable Calipari with the dumbfounded looks. Coach Weber was too
busy coaching his tail off. He is doing a great job, and I'll simply
submit the evidence from this game as my proof. But don't be fooled.
Illinois will probably not go undefeated the rest of the year, but
then again not many teams do.
Check the No. 1 teams over the first
month of the season. It takes time for a new coach and a new system
to mesh with existing and incoming players. From this
semiprofessional writer's opinion it appears that Weber and his
Illini are right on schedule. But it's nice to have the magic of the
Hall on our side as well!
[to top of second column in this
other sports news…
ISU took a tough loss at UIC 74-86. ISU
fell to 3-3, while Jimmy Collins' Flames improved to 8-2 and will
meet the Illini in a couple of weeks.
Lincoln's Gregg Alexander did all he
could to give his Redbirds a chance. How's that? Gregg tallied six
points, five rebounds, five assists, one block, one steal and
probably gave many people directions to the game while committing
only one turnover in 27 minutes of action.
More of his gutty play and his intense,
tenacious defense will be needed for the 'Birds to vault to the next
level of success. Coach Moser will undoubtedly address that in the
ISU next hosts an outstanding Western
Kentucky team Tuesday night at Redbird Arena. What a great Christmas
gift that would be. Why not send your spouse to the game while you
go out and buy him or her their Christmas gifts? Just a thought…
The Railers righted the ship on Friday
night as well as they beat Chatham-Glenwood 55-31. We had seen
Justin Peisker in practice a couple of times, but we had no idea how
huge he was to the Lincoln Railer attack.
Peisker took over in the second half,
finishing the night with 18 points. The very heady David Pickering
followed suit with 11 points of his own. Cory Bruns added nine, and
John Harmson threw in six.
Four other Railers found the scoring
column as Lincoln improved to 4-3, 1-1. Chatham fell to 1-5 and 0-2.
The game showcased what I believe are a
lot of Lincoln coach Neil Alexander's strengths. He's had time to
adjust and fix some of the defensive breakdowns. Knowing him like I
do, he'll work it a lot more too… but, it is improving. And his
continuity offense was clicking on all cylinders! Few teams move the
ball around the perimeter with purpose as well as his teams do. They
were breaking the Titans down with textbook Lincoln Railer
I'm hoping that more good things are on
the horizon. You could also tell that the assistant coaches' work is
paying off. I'm sure that Eric Ewald has worked with the post
players. Their improved performances are indicative of that. This
young team has more upside than some people think!
The Lady Railers split last week with a
loss versus Bloomington but a great 47-35 win over Jacksonville. The
Lady Railers received balanced scoring across the board with Tiffany
Tungate going for 11, Brooklyn Robbins hitting for nine, Jessica
Carey tallying eight and Patty Carmitchel with six.
Mount Pulaski's Hilltoppers just keep
winning. The last thing we heard is that Mt. P. has jumped off to a
sparkling 9-0 start on the young season. Congrats to Coach Jumper
and the boyz… Keep it up!
LCC's teams split this weekend with
wins over Rhema and losses to the host school, Westminster. Both the
men and the women conclude first semester action with games versus
Grace in Grand Rapids, Mich.
LC's men suffered two heartbreaking
losses this past weekend at home, losing to both Shawnee and to Rend
Lake. No report from LC's women.
Greg Taylor and Lynn Laughlin are
sporting their Chicago Bear blue and orange colors today following
the improbable win over the Minnesota Vikings. Does this mean they
want Jauron and Shoop to stay???
The Rams, with an activated Andy King
from Lincoln, also won a barnburner over the Seattle Seahawks, while
the Colts blew out the Atlanta Falcons. The playoff picture is
getting a lot clearer.
I can't even speak of the baseball
winter meetings… I'm too depressed over what the Cardinals are and
are NOT doing!
Jason White from Oklahoma won the
prestigious Heisman Trophy, recognizing him as the nation's best
college football player. I don't know whether he is or isn't, but
he's got the trophy!
I spoke with Illini football coach Ron
Turner at the Illini basketball game this weekend. Most people could
learn a lot from Mr. Turner. Seldom have I met a man who handles
adversity with as much grace, composure and class as he has. He
possesses a wonderful demeanor, and I'm guessing, judging by the
happy people around him, that he is a wonderful family man. I sure
hope that he can rally his Illini gridders to a solid season next
year! He appears to be a person who deserves it.
Join the incomparable Greg Taylor and
myself tonight at 6 on "FANdamonium." Check in with us on your
thoughts of the Illini, area hoops teams and the baseball winter
I'd like to dedicate today's column to
my own little champion, Payne Mayfield. Today is his third birthday
(does 3 years go as fast for you as they have for me?) and next to
his mother, no one or no thing means more to me than him! Payne,
you're not only my LDN Athlete of the Week, you're my Athlete of the
Year! Happy Birthday, Champ!!!
Have a GREAT