Monday, February 20, 2006

Indiana 58; Illinois 70

Excellent efforts out of James Augustine and Brian Randle allowed the Illini to open up a big first half lead that they'd never really come close to relinquishing, despite some anxious moments in teh second half, mostly brought on by the collapse against Penn State. I've written all year about how the Illini, especially Brian Randle but it goes for Augie as well, need to attack the basket. Yesterday, they did just that, converting dunk after dunk (six according to ESPN's play by play). I counted at least four for Augustine, and while Randle only had one, it was thunderous and it was the signature moment of the game. He took his man off the dribble and flew to the hoop to throw down a monster jam, and completed the three point play at the line. Augie finished with 18 and 10 for his 25th career double double, while Randle added 12 points and five boards to go along with stifling defense that limited Robert Vaden to 9 points on 4-13 shooting.

The Illini have struggled with skilled big men this season, getting killed by Marco Killingsworth and Terrence Dials in earlier games this season. Part of the problem in those games was an inability to guard the perimiter while also limiting the inside game. Yesterday, they held Killingsworth to 15 points and 45% shooting. But they also held the Hoosiers down from the outside. Indiana hit just 4 of 22 three point attempts. That's less than 20%. Compare that with the 47% they allowed in their two games with Indiana and Ohio State earlier this year, and you can see what made the difference.

Illinois wasn't much better from beyond the arc (in fact, they were worse), hitting only 3 of 17 shots. But that didn't include any from Jamar Smith, who didn't play. According to Coach Weber, he "didn't take care of business". Let your imagination fill in the rest. Didn't matter. Illinois did their damage inside as their big men accounted for 51 of the their 70 points. That's the kind of scoring they're going to need from the front-line as the tournament approaches.

Four winnable games remain, but they're all losable as well. At Michigan tomorrow, followed by Iowa at home, and closing on the road with MSU and Minnesota, who has been terrific at home lately. Those four games will be the difference between a conference championship and a two seed, or a first round game in the Big Ten Tournament and a six seed. If this team is going to decide to be special, now is the time to do it.

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