Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

I guess that's why they play the games. It's become increasingly difficult to figure out this year's installment of the Fighting Illini men's basketball team. Some games they look like world beaters, other times they look like doormats. Take the case of the last two games for the Illini, both of them at home in the friendly confines of the Assembly Hall. Nebraska paid its first visit to Champaign as a member of the Big Ten, and almost left town with their first win of the season. Now, granted, the Illini haven't been setting the world on fire with their play on the court this season, and the game against the Cornhuskers proved that to be true. The Illini needed a strong second half surge to finally escape with a 59-54 win. The win wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, and the performance left those in attendance wondering what the Ohio State Buckeyes would do to Illinois when they came to visit later the next week. Coach Bruce Weber has taken a lot of criticism this season, and deservedly so. His substitution pattern has left a lot to be desired lately, and that could have been one of the reasons that Crandall Head left the team at the semester break.

Ohio State came into Champaign ranked #5 in the nation, and boasting one of the more talented teams in the country. Nobody gave the Illini much of a chance against the Buckeyes, but as they have proved time and again, they play to the level of their competition. I don't think anyone expected what actually happened, because it is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Brandon Paul went absolutely ballistic on the Buckeyes, scoring 43 points, including the Illini's final 15, to single-handedly lead Illinois to a 79-74 upset in front of a near capacity crowd. What made Paul's performance so phenomenal was that he only took 15 shots, making 11 of them. He was 8-10 from beyond the arc, and 13-15 from the free throw line. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Brandon though, as he committed 7 of them to lead the team in that category. The outburst by Paul was the most points scored by an Illini player since Andy Kaufmann dropped 46 back in 1990. Dave Downey still holds the all-time single game record for points scored by an Illini player with 53 points. Still, Paul's huge night will go down as one of the all-time moments in Assembly Hall history. The Illini improve to 15-3 overall with the win, and remain near the top of the Big Ten Conference at 3-1 overall. The Illlini get some time to rejuvenate themselves, since they don't play next until next Thursday when they travel to State College, Pennsylvania to battle the Penn State Nittany Lions (8:00 pm central time, ESPN2). The time off will give D. J. Richardson and Sam Maniscalco a chance to heal their injuries, so they will be ready to go when the meat of the Big Ten schedule hits.

Tuesday night was also a special night for a former coach of the Illini, as he was honored with the first banner to be raised in the Assembly Hall for the great coaches. Lou Henson, who turned 80 on Tuesday, was recognized at halftime, and judging by the reaction to the crowd, is still widely appreciated by Illini Nation. It was a fitting tribute to a legend, and only one honor is missing from the Henson resume, and that is a spot in the Hall of Fame. Here's hoping that Lou is alive to see it happen.

The Illini women's basketball team has to be the unluckiest bunch in recent memory. After falling to Purdue on a last second shot at the buzzer, the Illini have lost to Iowa 69-62 in overtime, and Wisconsin 70-67. All three of those games could have easily been wins, but they were not, and as a result, the Illini sit at 6-11 overall and still winless in the Big Ten at 0-4. Looks like some things never change.

New football coach Tim Beckman continues to assemble his staff, and reports are that LSU receivers coach Billy Gonzalez will be named offensive coordinator as early as Friday. Beckman needs to get his staff completed in order to go out on the road recruiting. Signing Day is early next month, and with a lot of commitments left from the Zook era, there is plenty of work to do.


Unknown said...

Great as always, Jim

Unknown said...

Great as always, Jim. Good to see Lou honored. Awesome win. Could this be the start of something?