Sunday, March 05, 2006

Catching up

Three games yesterday, so instead of giving each their own post, I'll lump them all into one. That's what happens when you're recovering from travel and recovering from particularly nasty stye.

Blue Jackets 2; Kings 3

The Kings were playing very poorly in just about all facets of the game before the Olympic break. They weren't scoring, they weren't playing defense, they weren't getting good goaltending, and their special teams were awful. It felt like they needed to make big strides in a couple of areas to start winning again. But they've gone in another direction. Instead of big improvements in a couple of areas, they've made small improvements in every area. They're getting timely goals, improved defense, very good goaltending, and they've now played two games without giving up a power play goal, while netting a couple themselves. The results are two straight post-break victories, giving them a four game winning streak.

Sean Avery was hero and almost-goat yesterday, as he recorded his first ever mult-goal game. The first came shorthanded on a two one one as he fired a wicked snapshot past Marc Denis' glove. The second came near the end of the second period when he tapped home a one timer off of a Tom Kostopolous pass. Kostopolous has been skating really well the past few games.

After allowing two goals in the opening five minutes of the third period to even the score, the Kings settled down, and got a late power play goal from Michael Cammalleri that provided the winning margin. I can't be the only Kings fan whose happy to see Dustin Brown getting power play time, and his presence in front of the Columbus net led directly to that goal.

Matthieu Garon, while not tremendous, was very good yet again, and he did come up with a couple of excellent saves. They need that sort of solid goaltending to reach the playoffs. And if the rumors are right, they might not be getting it from Garon much longer, as he has been mentioned as part of a deal that would bring Canadian National Team goalie Roberto Luongo to the Kings from Florida.

UCLA 75; Stanford 54

For the first time in nine years, the Bruins are the champions of the Pac-10 regular season, and they earned it by playing probably their finest game, start to finish, of the entire season. For the first time in four games, the Bruins actually showed up to play in the first half. In wins over Oregon, Oregon State, and UC Berkeley, the Bruins had failed to crack 30 points in the first half, and trailed every game at the midpoint. But after falling behind 5-0 to the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion, they woke up, went on a 14-2 run, and never looked back. They extended their lead to 14 by halftime. Stanford went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to nine points with just under 21 minutes to play, but the Bruins slammed the door with a 10-0 run of their own immediately after.

They did it with a balanced attack on offense, and their trademark stifling pressure on defense. Four starters finished in double figures, with Michael Roll chipping in nine off the bench. The numbers don't show it, but Darren Collison had one of his best games as a Bruin with six points, and at least one more assist than the official scorer appears to have given him credit for. On the glass LRMAM led the team again with nine rebounds, and Ryan Hollins grabbed eight of his own. Jordan Farmar added 13 points and seven assists with -- brace yourself for this -- NO TURNOVERS. In fact, as a team, the Bruins only turned the ball over 5 times, ten times fewer than their hosts. That was really the difference, and it shows what a team can do when it values the basketball.

On the Pac 10 tourney, where they can hopefully sew up nothing worse than a 3 seed, and maybe even a two if they're particularly impressive.

Illinois 75; Michigan State 68

Two more games against the Spartans, two more wins, and two more chances for me to hold bragging rights over my dad (MSU class of '60). Two solid halves of basketball by the Illini led them to this win, but the way in which they put those halves together differed a fair amount. In the first half, Dee Brown's inconstent shooting and James Augustine's injury after a collision with Goran Suton meant that the Illini would need scoring support from other areas. They got it from Warren Carter's six points, and Sean Pruitt's eight points (including four for four from the free throw line). They went into the break trailing by one after officials took away an apparent buzzer beater by Jamar Smith (it was the right call).

In the second half, Augie got healthy, and Dee caught fire, throwing in 16 of his 20 points, and all five of his three pointers (he finished five of ten from beyond the arc). The Illini took control at roughly the fourteen minute mark. After palying even for the previous few minutes, Illinois went on a 12-0 run which consisted of two three pointers from Brown, and two from Jamar Smith. This seems to be the Illini M.O. in a lot of their wins this year. Play the game close. Maybe take a little lead, then give it up, then play even, then BAM! Go on a run that wears the opponent out, and that's that.

Earlier in the second half, Rich McBride fired up an airball in attempt to beat the shot clock. The Izzone, as is mandated in the by-laws of just about every college basketball student section, subsequently reminded him of it every time he touched the ball. As a result, there was no sweeter hoop than the open three that McBride hit on the feed from Augustine with 6:33 to go, and which put the Illini back on top by double digits. McBride was one of five Illini to finish the game in double figures, and it looks like this team is finally figuring out a way to score that doesn't require running the shot clock down to nothing before having Dee launch a desperation three. They need to get back to their solid defense for a full forty minutes. But if they put those two elements together, there's no one they can't beat on any given night.

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