Speaking of tests and challenges, how
'bout the one coming up for the Illinois Fighting Illini on
Wednesday night? Oh, haven't you heard? The No. 1 team in the
nation, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons invade the Assembly Hall
before a national TV audience.
Illinois won the Wooden Tradition trophy by beating
Gonzaga. Here, legendary coach John Wooden, who led UCLA to ten NCAA
titles, hands out more of his trophies and awards. Many of these
went to Indiana elementary and secondary teachers who have
demonstrated excellence in the classroom.
But first… a recap of Saturday's game
Legendary coach John Wooden, who was
the host of the Tradition Tournament, called Illinois' performance
"one of the best that he had seen in a while." Gonzaga coach Mark
Few called it "a thoroughly dominating performance." No-namer Jeff
Mayfield called it "an awesome sight to behold." But whatever you
called it, it was convincing. No one has been beaten more soundly
since Custer and his troops made their last stand! And since we're
talking hoops and troops, the Illini corps started everything from
the defensive side of the ball.
Illinois employed a swarming,
stifling pressure defense that rattled the Bulldogs early and often.
A relentless combination of big men, starting with James Augustine
and Roger Powell Jr., did not miss a beat when Jack Ingram and Nick
Smith took their turns terrorizing the paint. All-Universe Ronny
Turiaf basically had no answer for Illinois' defensive siege.
From there it was just a matter of
Illinois' three-headed guard monster of Deron Williams, Luther Head
and Dee Brown doing their thang. And what is their thang? It's
whatever they want it to be. If you want run-outs (fast break easy
layups and dunks), they've got that for you. If you want unselfish
play, an extra pass each possession and a multitude of assists,
they've got that for you. If you want a steady rain of 3-point
buckets, they can oblige you on that too. In fact, how 'bout these
lines: Deron Williams, 20 points, five 3-pointers, three assists and
two steals; Luther Head, 20 points, four 3s, nine assists and four
steals; Dee Brown, 17 points, three 3s, eight assists and two
steals. Not a bad day's work.
Powell threw down 11 points, and
Augustine chipped in six points and five rebounds.
Illinois was a sizzling 14-of-28
from 3-point land and 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. They led in
assists 24 to 12, in steals 13 to 4 and won the turnover battle 7 to
People not close to the Illini were
buzzing about Illinois' speed, their guard play and their solid
defensive pressure, but here's what I took away from the contest:
1. Illinois looked to be a VERY
hungry team. My son likes me to read him a book about "The Very
Hungry Caterpillar," who eats all day and night and never seems to
be satisfied. That is how the Illini looked on Saturday.
Furthermore, if they continue to not only look like that, but play
like that, this will be a very special season indeed.
2. With all that being said, I STILL
would NOT want to face Gonzaga come tournament time. Coach Few's
kids are young, and by then they will have won 25 games and have a
whole 'nother season under their belts. Mark me down as someone who
considers them very dangerous in March!
3. IF Illinois' big guys can get
some rebounds, score enough to keep defenses honest and play the
kind of D that they did against the Zags, this will be a very
special season indeed.
[to top of second column in
4. Illinois is in the process of
developing a herd mentality. I am speaking of the Illini fans. I
have always held that they were worth our following, but now the
grass roots are rumbling and everywhere we go our numbers are
growing. There are legions of followers and our base has grown into
a virtual army. It is a beautiful sight to behold!
5. Since I believe that, you fans
will hold part of the key for Wednesday night's contest. IF you all
can bring relentless energy, that might make the difference. The
onus is on your shoulders!
6. Larry Bird (and Pacer CEO Donnie
Walsh) scouted the game from just underneath my perch. During EVERY
timeout dozens of kids and women descended on Bird for photos and
autographs. Bird obliged everyone. He is not only a superstar
athlete, he appears to be a superstar person. That was very
impressive to me.
7. While football and Thanksgiving
have always gone together, is there anything sweeter than spending
part of that holiday watching Illinois thrash a top-25 opponent?
I can't write much about the Railers,
since I was out of town for most of the holiday action. I do know
that they are off to a 3-1 start, with a rescheduled game against
Danville on Wednesday night. Lynn Laughlin said it best when
everyone was squawking about how athletic all of the tournament
teams were compared with the Railers. Lynn responded by saying,
"Will anyone play better 'team' ball than Lincoln?" In a word, NO!
I have no other reports on Lady
Railer action, LC or LCC hoops at this time.
to sign Jeff George
I like this deal, so mark me down as
someone who does. He can't be worse than what the Bears have gotten
out of that position so far this season. I don't say that I love it,
because if it fails, the skeptics will be all over me. I just don't
understand why Chicago didn't make this move before the season
started or just a few weeks ago. I agree with Sean Salisbury: The
NFC is not showing parity but mediocrity, and the Bears' late deal
may make them miss a golden opportunity to have slipped into the
I'm taking a real low-key approach
to this game Wednesday night with Wake. While I would love to win it
for the shear pleasure of forcing Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps and
hosts of those other rummies to sing Illinois' praises, the whole
season doesn't hinge on that game for me. As a matter of fact, I
told Greg Taylor that I hope Illinois has at least one more
performance in them like the one we saw on Saturday -- reserved for
that final Saturday or Sunday before Final Four weekend. Know what I
I had an opportunity to see the
Indiana Class A championship game on Friday afternoon. It pitted the
big, bad Indianapolis Ritter team, the defending state champions,
versus the small-town Seeger Patriots from West Lebanon, the
defending state runner-up. How often do both teams make it back to a
state title game? Coach Moore of Seeger may have called the game of
his life, making the right play choices at the right moment, time
after time, and Seeger got redemption, coming away with a 20-7
championship, the school's first in any sport! It was as
entertaining a football contest as I have ever witnessed. What a
Non-sports item of the week
We tried to get away Wednesday
afternoon in the midst of the blizzard. Twenty minutes later, after
seeing a couple of dozen cars in the ditch, my wife agreed with me
that it would be safer to return home and wait to travel on
Thursday. We were granted safety and made it over and back. However,
what always impresses me is how people help each other out -- people
pushing out others who were stuck, offering a drink, food or housing
to those stranded. Please be cautious out there and look out for one
another. The life you eventually safe may be your own.
That's it for me… Have a great week,