Kings 3; Panthers 1
I think it's safe to say that this was exactly what the Kings needed. They're still stuggling a bit on offense, but they got two goals out of the slumping Pavol Demitra, a goal out of the yet-to-break-out Michael Cammalleri, they were perfect on the PK for the first time in just about forever, and they got one on the power play (with another coming just as a PP ended). This was a game in which they weren't fantastic, but there was some improvement in every area, and a much needed two points.
Once again, Demitra converted on a shorthanded chance. Maybe one of the problems with the penalty kill has been a willingness to take too many chances for shorthanded breakaways. But when it works, it's pretty, and it can be a real back breaker sometimes. Demitra showed that he's one of the most skilled players in the league when he faked Roberto Luongo out of his pads for the Kings second goal.
Mathieu Garon is starting to take command of the starting job. It's no fault of Jason LaBarbera that Garon started his run of solid play when LaBarbera was out for personal reasons, but the Kings have needed someone to rise to the occasion, and Garon is starting to look like that guy.
The next three games are pretty critical. One against an Eastern team that they really should win, and two against divisional opponents as they start another stretch against Western Conference teams. This improvement couldn't have come at a more important time.
(11) Illinois 89; Oregon 59
This was by far the finest performance of the year for the 10-0 Illini (I'm starting to get used to these undefeated starts), and the catalyst was definitely the man they're counting on, Dee Brown. He did everything on offense. He made a beautiful no look pass to Augie, one of his seven assists against two turnovers. He stepped out and hit threes, and he took the ball strong to the basket against the somewhat undersized Ducks. This was definitely not the Georgetown team they played earlier in the week, with a 7'2" eraser under the basket, and the big guys took advantage. With Brown, Jamar Smith, and Rich McBride, this is a perimiter oriented offense, yet the big men combined for 34 points, the most surprising being the 11 points (and 8 rebounds) they got out of Marcus Arnold. The Illini dominated the glass, outrebounding Oregon 44-28.
By the way, Bruce Weber is now a pedestrian 73-9 in his time at Illinois. That's not too bad.
(16) UCLA 67; (17) Nevada 56
This one wasn't on TV here thanks to the geniuses at the Wooden Classic who signed a TV contract with KCAL. Thanks a lot, assholes.
Anyway, much needed solid victory against a good team. This was not Albany or Coppin State. Nevada can play. They beat Kansas in Kansas. They were a capable tournament team last year until they ran into the Illinois buzz-saw, where James Augustine showed Nick Fazekas how to play. This was a confidence boost, as a well as message to the national press that, yes, they are as good as their early rankings, despite the UCLA trademark crappy early season games against even crappier opponents.