Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lots of doings last night

The Kings, Lakers, Illini, and Bruins were pretty much all on TV at the same time last night, so it was a workout for both the DVR and the split screen, but I caught a sufficient amount of each game, except maybe the Lakers game, which quite frankly, I didn't really care that much about anyway.


For the seventh straight season, the Illini walked off the court in St. Louis with the Busch Bragging Rights trophy, having down Missouri yet again. It was actually a very entertaining game. Tons of lead changes, lots of runs by both teams, a very quick pace, and a lot of fun to watch.

Coming off a 22 turnover performance against Belmont, this one looked a little scary for the Illini. Mizzou, under new coach Mike Anderson, is running Nolan Richardson's old 40 minutes of hell system. High pressure, turnover inducing basketball. But Chet Frazier rose the challenge, turning the ball over just three times against the press, off-set by his three steals, while dishing out six assists and scoring eight points in nearly 40 minutes of action. But he wasn't a runaway player of the game. Sean Pruitt scored a career high 19 points to go with nine boards. And Brian Randle made big play after big play, adding 10 points, seven boards, and two steals of his own. He made a huge block down the stretch, and kept a possession alive when he tipped a rebound of a missed free throw out to a teammate in the final minute. Still, the Tigers hung tough, and had a chance to tie with under four seconds to go when Stephon Hannah fumbled away an attempt at a three.

Despite some other (better) takes, I actually thought the Illini looked pretty good, and the performances by Pruitt and Randle are something to build on. Warren Carter had a bit of an off night before taking a shot to his hip flexor, but it was good to see that they could win when he doesn't have a big night. Conference play is right around the corner.


Fortunately, the Illinois game kept me from paying a great deal of attention to the first half. It was really an awful performance. The funny thing is, if you look at the numbers, the game doesn't look that bad. They shot a great percentage from the field, from beyond the arc, and from the free throw line. They held Sam Houston State to relatively low numbers from the field, and the led the rebounding battle. But they got behind big early, and with the slow down "Princeton" style that SHS plays, it took them a long time to get back into the game. It was a definite trap game, coming a few days before Saturday's test with Michigan. School's out as well, and the home crowd was less than intimidating (quick aside: Why can't this team draw for shit? I can't think of another storied program, ranked number one, that wouldn't have sold out this game, and it's not like Pauley is a big venue).

Leading the way again, surprise surprise, were Josh Shipp with 18, Aaron Afflalo with 12, and Darren Collison with 11. I thought Russel Westbrook, despite only playing 10 minutes, had probably his best game aesthetically. He dropped in seven point on three for four shooting, and moved the ball well despite not picking up any assists. The kid can score, maybe a little better than Collison could at this point last season. If ha can mature a little more this season, he'll be nice option when the Bruins need an extra offensive punch, and I especially like the lineup this team would be able to put out against a team like Missouri (they aren't scheduled, but I use them as an example) if they wanted to go small and litter the court with ball-handlers and scorers. Michigan awaits on Saturday.


Slow start again, down 2-0 early thanks to two bad goals allowed by Cloutier, and the Kings never recovered. Despite the heroic efforts of man-child Anze Kopitar (two more goals and an assist), the Kings never got closer than a goal down. Both of Kopitar's second period goals were answered by Flames who pretty much waltzed into the crease to re-extend the lead to two goals each time, and despite dominating the second period, the Kings had nothing to show for it. When Kristian Huselius cherry picked his way into the Flames fifth goal with about 7:30 to play, the deal was done. Dustin Brown added his ninth of the season on the power play to cut into the final margin.

Not sure I would have gone away from Brust in this one if I were Marc Crawford. The kid looked as good in his two games as Cloutier has looked in his two best games this season. Probably should have given Cloutier a couple more days of practice to get back into the action, but hindsight it 20/20.

The bad news is that Kings seem to be taking one step forward, one step back. On the plus side, that's a big improvement over the one step forward, three steps back they were routinely taking a couple of months ago. There's a lot of season left, and these guys aren't going to make the playoffs, but the guys who need to progress are progressing, and the guys who aren't progressing aren't going to be a part of the next good Kings team anyway.

No comments: