Saturday, January 07, 2006

UCLA 61: Arizona State 60

Fantastic finshes are becoming the norm in the Pac 10 this season, and Arizona State probably feels like they've seen more than enough of them. After losing on a broken play three pointer against U$C on Thursday, ASU tried to turn the tables on UCLA today. Trailing by 2 with about 12 seconds to go, Bryson Krueger nailed a three pointer that gave ASU the lead. But a few seconds later, Jordan Farmar went the length of the court to toss in the game winning basket with three seconds to play.

This game was pretty ragged all afternoon, with lots of whistles, inconsistent officiating, poor shooting from UCLA, and poor free throw shooting from the Sun Devils. Mind you, I don't think the officiating favored either team, I think it was just bad all around. I defy any of you to explain the difference between a charge and block using only video evidence from that game. Kevin Kruger moved into Josh Shipp and drew a charge. Later, Angounou jumped into Lo Mata, who appeared to be as set as Kruger, and drew a block. Shortly thereafter, Aaron Afflalo drove the basket and jumped into Angounou, who appeared to be more set than both Kruger and Mata, and drew a block (Afflalo also got injured and left the game after that play).

I'm sure everyone was surprised to see that Afflalo led the Bruins in scoring, again, and that LRMAM led the Bruins in rebounding....again. Afflalo didn't get a lot of support offensively, as the team's other big scorers, Shipp and Farmar, combined for only 19. They're aren't going to win very often if they only get 40 from those three guys, but they rebounded well enough today to overcome it, and they played pretty good defense on the perimiter until the final minutes, when Kevin Kruger found his stroke, and Bryson Krueger hit what was almost the winning shot. The Bruins were 1-15 from beyond the arc, and ASU wasn't much better until making their last few.

So to sum up, an ugly game, especially compared to Thursday night, but a hard fought road victory against a team the Bruins need to beat. 3-1 in conference now, with the Washington schools next. The home game against Washington is really going to be key. Win that, and they're still in good shape. Lose that, and they've got a tough road to the conference championship.

Illinois 48; Iowa 63

Well, this one hurts, but let's face it, they're not last year's team, Iowa is probably better than they were last year, and this was on the road. They're going to lose some games here and there.

What's really disappointing about this one is that it's a game they could have won. They had to work hard to get good looks, but when the looks aren't coming easy, you have to take advantage. You have to make those shots, and today, the Illini didn't. Dee was the most culpable, and he is going to get most of the bad press, but this was a total team effort at sucking. The three starting forwards combined for 10-14 shooting, but they couldn't find ways to get open often enough. The guards, on the other hand, were about as bad as they could be. Brown, McBride, Smith, and Frazier went a combined 7-34. That's just a hair above 20%, and you're not going to win games when you shoot that poorly.

Let me be clear, the Illini did not deserve to win this game. However, I do believe that this game was very poorly officiated in Iowa's favor. Augustine was a target yet again, picking up for fouls in very limited minutes. Iowa had over twice as many free throws as the Illini, and the big men did not take that many more shots than the Illini big men. But the truth is, that's Big 10 basketball on the road. You aren't going to get calls. You have to find a way to fight through it, and the Illini didn't.

These things are going to happen. Shake it off and come back strong.

Friday, January 06, 2006

UCLA 85; Arizona 79

Probably the most shocking result of the night (see below for the other two games of my three for three night), given the situation. Team on the road, struggling with injuries, playing an Arizona team that played an incredible second half at Washington on Saturday. But this is Arizona, and Illinois fans all over the land learned last year that they can occasionally be counted on to lose games they should win.

Terrific performance by all of the Bruins, as just about everyone who played contributed. They went nine deep tonight, with not one minute played by someone above the level of sophomore. Even Mike Roll and Alfred Aboya combined for 8 points in 12 minutes. LRMAM led the team in rebounding yet again, with another nine to go along with his eight points and three assists. One of the less heralded members of this freshman class, he's been outstanding and indespensible this season. Lo Mata (nine points, seven boards) continues to take the major strides that Fey and Hollins still have yet to take, probably relegating those two to major pine time even after they've healed. The super sophs combines for 54 of the 85 points, with Afflalo leading the way yet again with 20, supplemented by Shipp's 14 and Farmar's 11 in limited minutes. The best news was that the last four of Farmar's points came in the final minutes from the free throw line where he's struggled this year.

The Cal loss still hurts, and may come back to haunt them near the end of the season, but make no mistake. This was a tremendous victory on the road against a good team with an incredibly young lineup. Pardon me for looking ahead, but if everyone comes back, this team is a lock for the pre-season top five next year.

Illinois 60; Michigan State 50

D. That's all you need to know. D.

Dee Brown was unfreakingbelievable, pouring in over half of the team's points (34) to go along with three assists. Quite frankly, this was the best individual performance I've seen by an Illini since Corey Bradford single handedly took the 11th seeded Illini to the final of the conference tournament back in 1999. He. Was. Awesome. Whether he was driving the lane, pulling up for mid-range jumper, or canning circus three after circus three (Including about a 35 footer and a ducking, leaping, floating jumper to close out the first half), he was just unstoppable.

But he did have some help. Rich McBride had 8 points, 6 on two threes, and none more deadly than the one he hit from the left wing with about a minute to play. James Augustine and Sean Pruitt combined for 12 points and and 14 rebounds (Augie also added three blocks).

But the unsung hero of the night, who's performance was almost as exceptional as Brown's, was Brian Randle. Sure, his 3 points on 1-5 shooting and 5 rebounds don't seem impressive, and as text on a page, they aren't. But that's not the important line. More telling about Randle's perfomance was this: 9 points on 3-8 shooting with 1 assist and 2 turnovers. Those were the number of senior forward Maurice Ager, 13 points below his team leading average, and 2+ assists below his average. Randle has become a shut down forward, big enough to guard the four, and athletic enough to guard the two. He frustrated Ager all night long, and was the biggest reason the Illini held Spartans more than 30 points below their 82 point average, sixth best in college basketball. This team can flat out defend, and Randle might be the most important cog in this defensive machine.

Kings 4; Coyotes 0

Another two points. 9-1-1 in their last ten games. The Kings pretty much controlled this one all night after a bit of a shaky start during which Garon was called upon to be the rock that he's been lately. Craig Conroy took advantage of delayed penalty and wristed home a great pass from Matty Norstrom. The original call was a double minor, and minutes later, on the ensuing power play, Joe Corvo netted his eighth of the year. Luc got on the scoreboard near the end of the period to make the score 3-0, and that was pretty much that.

The Kings dominated the scoring chances despite being outshot (mostly due to a puck possession third period) and cruised home, with Luc adding an empty netter to get one step close to Marcel Dionne's team record for goals.

I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel during the late November rough patch (shocking, I know), but this team is playing hard, and playing fairly smart. The power play has started to click lately, and if they can turn around the PK, they're going to be very good. Last season's squad led the division for much of the season, but it felt like they weren't on solid ground, and sure enough, it eventually caved in. I don't get that feeling with this team.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Kings 3; Stars 2 (F-OT)

Didn't see this one. It was on OLN, my parents don't get OLN. So I went out with some friends and listened to the last five minutes and overtime on the radio. The best way to put distance between themselves and Dallas is to beat Dallas, which they've now done four straight times. Granted, they only picked up one point tonight, but it's still a big point.

In other news, the power play is starting to click again. Three more power play goals tonight. Of course, they gave up another power play goal. The PK has been awful lately. This is a complete 180 from the first month or two of the season. Maybe by February we'll have them both on track.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Year End

Yeah, I'm probbly gonna do it. Top albums, songs, concerts, shit like that. I should have done it this week, or the week before. But here's the thing. I'm lazy. Always been, always will be. You'll get it when I'm damn good and ready.

Gluckliches Neues Jahr, Alles.