First the Illini must navigate the trip
to Iowa City. I went over there for last year's contest, which was a
pathetic performance, to see how tough it really is to play over
there. While I didn't come away thinking it was the most
intimidating place in the world, I still didn't like it very much.
And since the Hawks appear to be
playing a little better and may be fighting to save coach Steve
Alford's job, I don't like the timing of this game. I liked the
timing of playing Penn State, mired in a huge losing streak, a lot
From there the Illini will close the
home portion of the schedule by taking on the most improved team in
the league, the Northwestern Wildcats. Hopefully, the revenge factor
will be more than enough to dust off the pesky Cats. Anyway, if you
can't beat them at home, you don't deserve to win the league
championship… End of story!
Then Illinois will finish the season
with one of the toughest two-part road trips available. They will go
to Purdue's house of doom and then onto the beautiful arena at Ohio
State. I still feel that going two out of three on the road and
taking care of business at home will be enough, but the Kool-Aid
drinkers say we should run the table. I wonder how many of the
Kool-Aid brigade ever played or coached college basketball?
I don't want to sound critical, but
winning college basketball games on the road is one of the hardest
things I have personally ever been a part of. You have to play
extremely well, not perfectly, but with a limited amount of physical
and mental mistakes. A few calls and bounces need to go your way.
Making a few shots doesn't hurt. A certain amount of luck doesn't
hurt either. The coach must be clicking, and solid overall team play
is a must.
When you can put that kind of a package
together, you have at least a chance to win on the road. Notice that
I said you have a chance! That is how hard it is. Even the 1989
Flying Illini that reached the Final Four did not win the league
title, because they couldn't get it done on the road.
This Illinois edition has already
surprised me, as I predicted a 9-7 or 10-6 at the best for a
high-water mark. They have already assured themselves a 9-7 record
and are looking to make me a liar with every win from here on out.
The other great things about winning late in the year are tournament
As the Illini keep winning, their seeds
in the Big Ten tourney and in the NCAA tourney continue to improve.
That is critical only if you want to do well and run deep in either
event. I still have one big question regarding this team. A month
ago, fans ripped Illinois coach Bruce Weber so hard and so much, I
wondered if he or the team would survive the onslaught. Now the
critics have gone quiet, lurking in the shadows to show their ugly
heads the next time the Illini stumble.
My question, though, is this: How in
the heck did Coach Weber get so much smarter in just three or four
weeks' time? Did he go to some coaching clinics? Did some of the
fans who criticized him from x's and o's to wardrobe selections
visit the coach with their suggestions? Did someone slip the coach
and the players some of the Kool-Aid?
My hunch is that Weber knows what the
heck he is doing! And once (and finally) the players sold out to his
plan and strategy, good things began to happen. If he could do it at
SIU, he should REALLY be able to do it with the personnel available
in those orange uniforms.
It's just one semiprofessional
reporter's opinion, but I like Weber. I will probably always miss
Coach Self, because he befriended me and allowed me and the LDN
close access to the team and the program. However, in the long run,
I'm not so sure that we didn't end up with a better coach!
I like the course Weber charted from
the very beginning. Do I still question some of things he does and
the team does? Yes. I'm a sports reporter… That's what we do! But,
do I admire and respect Weber? Without a doubt! I am happy that
things turned around for him -- not just for the team and the fans,
but mostly for him. That harsh criticism he took was over the top
and totally uncalled for. I hope it doesn't leave a bad taste in his
mouth. I hope he sees that most people are on board the ship (a
wagon is too slow!) now, believing in his course and ready to take
the greatest Illini ride ever.
ISU back in the win column
The ISU Redbirds beat the Loyola
Ramblers 77-71 in what turned out to be a hard-fought Bracket Buster
contest Saturday afternoon in Normal. Lincoln's Gregg Alexander
continued his stellar defensive play by limiting several of Loyola's
best players throughout the contest.
Alexander finished with five points,
three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 30 minutes of action.
The 'Birds now sport an 8-16 record and hope to hit their stride as
they ready for the upcoming Missouri Valley tourney in St. Louis. Up
next for the 'Birds is a Wednesday night home contest with
[to top of second column in this
win a thriller
Twenty or 50 years from now people will
still be talking about this one. First, they will ask you how a team
that had graduated nine seniors the year before was even in
contention for the league title the next season. Then they will ask
you how the team went on the road to win the CS8 title. They might
even ask you if Matt Schick, who hit the game-winning shot with four
seconds left in the game, was running a play designed for him to
shoot? They will then remind you that if the Railers take care of
business and win their home game on Friday night, a magical season
has another big story. Regardless of what happens, this has been a
season for the ages.
The Railers also hammered Peoria
Woodruff on Saturday to take their record to 19-9, and I believe
they are 10-3 in the CS8. Usually newspapers and sports
organizations rank their top 10 stories of the year. If the Railers
hold serve at home Friday night, it will be hard to knock this story
out of the top spot when this year's top 10 is calculated!
Good luck, Railers!
Railers end solid campaign
The LDN salutes Lincoln coach Anne
Stoltzenburg and her first year15-10 Lady Railers! While I'm sure
they hoped to play a lot longer, I felt they made some nice strides
under the first-year coach. I personally saw several of the games
and liked how hard the girls worked and performed. I believe that
intensity coupled with some more physical and mental toughness will
vault these girls into the limelight next season.
CONGRATULATIONS, ladies, on a fine
Time has hit the Lincoln Christian
College basketball men. They will travel to Maranatha in Watertown,
Wis., where they will have to navigate past the home team, Moody,
and Grace to advance to the national tournament.
The Angels, on the other hand, have
destiny within their own hands, as LCC is hosting the NCCAA
regionals right here in Lincoln!
Note to the community: Come on out and
watch these girls play! I'll even buy! That's right. Tell them that
I sent you and to put it on my tab, and they'll charge me for your
tickets. How's that for a free night out? (I'll do just about
anything to improve any Lincoln team's home-court advantage!)
The regionals get under way on Thursday
night as No. 4 Maranatha takes on No. 5 Moody at 6 p.m.
Then on Friday night the host school,
LCC, will take on Thursday night's winner at 5 p.m. At 7 p.m. No. 3
Grace will battle No. 2 Northland.
The championship game is set for
Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Ticket prices for the NCCAA regional at
LCC are $5 per game or $10 for the entire tournament!
According to unidentified sources, the
Lincoln Lynx won again -- this time over former Railer Cory Farmer's
Lincoln Land squad 72-66. The Lynx are turning up the heat, much to
the satisfaction of Lincoln College coach B.J. McCullum, just in
time for a postseason run.
The Lady Lynx lost to Lincoln Land
Community College 65-61 on Saturday afternoon.
He's back! Lincoln's Brian Cook saw 17
minutes of action in the Lakers 116-88 ambush of the Philadelphia
76ers on Friday night. Cook had two points, four rebounds and a
steal to help LA keep its stranglehold on second place. Cook also
had two points in yesterday's 104-92 waxing of the Phoenix Suns.
We might find out just how good the
Lakers are this week as they tackle the Sacramento Kings!
...held on to win the Nissan Open.
Don't forget that Mel Gibson's new
movie, "The Passion," opens up here in Lincoln, starting on
Wednesday. I had a chance to preview it last month in Chicago and it
is the most powerful movie I have ever experienced! It will truly be
For a good basketball read, go to
story/7112239. There you will find the story of former Illini
assistant basketball coach Billy Gillespie's unbelievable coaching
job this season at UTEP!
for me… Have a great week, everybody!