They did rally.
That's because Lincoln teams never
quit. As I run into former Railers in my travels, I see how that
trait has helped them in their businesses and in their family lives.
This team on Friday crawled all the way back and made it a
one-possession game. They just could never get over the hump.
I could break down the play of each
individual player for the game and for the season, but I'm just not
going to do that. I could go on about Neil Alexander being the best
coach in the state and how he has one of the best assistant staffs
around too. However, this edition of the Railers was perhaps the
truest epitome team that Lincoln has ever had. It seems to me that
in the past Lincoln always had a superstar to lead them to state.
This time, the whole squad led them there!
Certainly we wish seniors David
Pickering and John Harmsen the best in all their future endeavors,
and they will leave a huge hole as they depart. But if you make the
mistake that many people did and count out the Railers already for
next season, then I have only one thing to say to you:
See you next March when the Railers
are playing in Peoria… again!
come up huge!
Augie and Ingram lead Illini into
the Sweet 16
Basketball experts and analysts have
been saying all season that Illinois' biggest weakness was its post
players. Most of the love has been spread to the Illini's trio of
stellar guards. But to discount the Illinois "bigs" could only
happen if you never saw Illinois play, or if you did, you simply
weren't paying attention.
From this writer's view the positive
transformation of the Illini "bigs" into consistent threats as well
as rebound warriors has given this team a legitimate chance at a
deep NCAA run. At times it's been Roger Powell Jr. But against
Nevada it was James Augustine and Jack Ingram. From the opening tip
Augie looked like he was in a zone. And other than Cook, when was
the last time you saw an Illinois post player shoot technical foul
free throws as Augustine did in the first half against the Wolf
Augustine displayed quick, active
feet the whole night long and registered a huge double-double. He
was a monster on the boards and shot the rock with as much
confidence as he ever has. He finished the night with 23 points, 10
rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots!
Of course, to you ardent LDN readers
and loyal fans, Augie's play came as no surprise to you. You knew he
was the BTT's MOP. And you knew that there were several times this
season that Augie simply put the team on his back and carried them
to victory. Against Nevada he did it again. And this time, instead
of getting help from Powell, it came from the Texan, Jack Ingram.
Ingram's play gave Illinois a huge
lift. He not only pulled down three rebounds, but he also had an
amazing three steals and a blocked shot. And if those contributions
were not enough, he added a career-high 12 points as well. He is a
guy who practices hard, and so the games are just a carry-over to
Teammate Deron Williams said it best
in a happy post-game Illini locker room when he said of Ingram: "He
is a practice all-American. So, it is no surprise for him to play
this well. He plays like that every day!"
Another key performer on the night
was Deron Williams. He managed this game from tip to finish and gave
Nevada little hope of any comeback. Williams had a double-double of
his own with 15 points, four rebounds and 10 assists and was
constantly breaking down the Wolf Pack system.
After the game I told him that I had
been reading about the five supposedly best point guards in the
country or those predicted to go early in this summer's NBA draft. I
told him that in my mind he was the best manager of a game of any
guard in the country, and I asked him to assess my analysis. "You're
right," he said. "I definitely know how to play!" Succinct, direct
and right to the point. No wonder he leads the Illini to heights
perhaps never reached before.
[to top of second column in this article]
I also should mention the good game
by Luther Head, and here's a stat for you: Luther has scored in
double figures in 32 of Illinois' 35 games. Is that incredible or
what? Luther banged home 14 points in this one to go along with four
rebounds and three assists.
All in all it was a solid Illinois
performance and one that they can build on going into next weekend
in the regional round of the NCAAs.
On the way home from these first two
games in the tournament, talk show phone lines were burning up with
"What's wrong with the Illini?" and suggestions on how to fix their
ailments. I have another idea. Why not let Bruce Weber, a national
coach-of-the-year winner, along with his staff draw up the
adjustments to get us by game by game? I have full confidence in
him, and if the team takes each opponent seriously and comes out and
just plays, I think that Illinois will be OK. It's just a
Finally, I'm glad the "bigs" have
gotten much more attention the last few games. They deserve it. And
there is some truth to the remark that they will need to continually
come up big for Illinois to advance. Just realize that they know
that before you even think it. All I know is that in this game
against Nevada, Illinois' "bigs" were huge!
shot 53 percent from the field but made only two 3-pointers.
Allstate Arena will have a much better backdrop for shooting than
the RCA Dome did -- that place is brutal (I could've said
terrible, but I was trying to avoid the Walton comparisons).
Ingram not only performed on the court but off it as well. When
the team re-emerged on the hardwood for the second half, the
managers forgot to give them two basketballs for layups. No
problem. Ingram scrambled around to find a ball rack and passed
two balls to Williams from there. Just another reminder on how he
is always picking up his teammates.
tip my hat to the Illini fan support. Not only did they turn the
RCA Dome into a sea of orange, they also actually brought the team
energy at key times during the contest. I love when they do that.
Illini are 20-0 when they dish out more than 15 assists, and they
tallied 18 versus Nevada.
has 62 career tournament rebounds, which is second only to
Lincoln's Brian Cook, who handled 74 caroms.
Williams also moved up to second on Illinois' career tourney
assist list with 43 dimes. The leader in the clubhouse is Bruce
Douglas with 55.
12-point performance marked the first time in his career that he
tallied in double figures.
will face Weber's alma mater Wisconsin-Milwaukee and old Illini
nemesis Bruce Pearl on Thursday night at the Allstate Arena in
Rosemont. There is not a ticket available within miles. It may be
one of the toughest regional tickets in the history of the NCAA.
- Currently, Illinois is scheduled
to play the early game Thursday night in Chicago, with the tip
scheduled for 6:27.
I know that there are dozens of
other things happening in sports, but I can't even keep up with
this. So, that's it for me. Have a great week, everybody!