Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fighting Illini Overcome 15-point Hole To Keep Title Hopes Alive

Just got off the phone with Josh Simon and Lee Hall. Lee got to see it, Josh was stuck in the tunnel watching the scoreboard and the hoop. But at least he was there.

Here's my analysis of the game:

The first half wasn't especially good despite the score. Illinois almost totally forgot about Augustine and any kind of post game. They launched three after three, but my problem with this is, even though you're making em, it isn't as high percentage. If you don't establish an inside presence early, you might not be able to later... and if the threes aren't falling, you're in trouble.

Fast forward to the second half.

At the 8:27 mark Deron Williams made an NBA move. He made a great spin move before launching an ill-advised jumper early in the shot clock after Illinois climbed to within 4. It was the most "un-Illinois" play of the year. I call it an NBA move cause it's the kind you make when you have seven games and can afford to do whatever late in the game. In college, it's win or go home and this was when I felt the tide really begin to shift for Arizona.

From there the Wildcats went on a 13-2 run to build what will now be the infamous 15 point lead with 4:02 on the clock. Like I said about the threes... Illinois missed four in a row.

My only real question after seeing just about every Illini game this year (including the Nevada game up close, thanks JG) was when faced with do or die, who was going to step up and hit the big shot or make the big play?

Tonight they answered the question: Brown, Head and Williams. The Illini missed three shots the rest of regulation. Williams scored 8, Head had 8 and Brown had 4. They had key steals and offensive rebounds and eventually won out in the five extra minutes.

Fittingly, the game ended with a defensive stop. It was superior defense that started this run early in the season and defense that has them two wins away from a national championship.

Update: As my wife pointed out this morning, I'm sure lots of people gave up hope when they were down 15... turned the TV off or left the arena. In fact, I heard people on the Score saying just that. But here's the thing. Nobody really knew how this team would respond in this kind of situation. We hadn't seen it before. It's biggest deficit was 9 points before this and that was early against Purdue. This was 15 in a regional final. But they showed what they were made of and will continue to dance.

1 comment:

tom sherman said...

Illinois hadn't been down by that much, but they had shown poise and determination all season. I had given up hope with 4 minutes left in the game, but if any team I've followed could have come back, it was this one. Wow.

More reaction to the victory at my blog.