Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ilinois 58; Northwestern 47

I'll be honest, because of the UCLA game and the Kings game, I didn't see a whole lot of this one, but I did notice a couple of things. First, the Illini aren't really going to be bothered by zone defenses. We have too many shooters, and they really move the ball well enough to get open shots. Second, man, that defense is awesome. When you hold the conference's leading score to one field goal, well, that's pretty good.

The box score will tell you that this was a step back for Pruitt and Randle, but don't let the numbers fool you. This was a zone defense team, and the big men just aren't going to get big points against those types of teams. Pay more attention to Vukusic's numbers, or lack thereof, where Randle is concerned. Remember, defense is going to be this team's calling card, and they did nothing to disprove that tonight.

This game opened up the soft spot in the Illini schedule, and they took care of business. Can't ask for much more.

West Virginia 60; UCLA 56

A tale of two halves. The Mountaineers shut down the Bruins offense, and pretty much had their way at the other end in the first half and for about the first five minutes of the second half as they built a 20 point lead. For the last 15 minutes of the game, Jordan Farmar took matters into his own hands, while Ryan Hollins actually showed up, and the Bruins cut into the lead, and had an opportunity to tie the game, down by three with six seconds to play, before Mike Gansey stole the ball from Jordan Farmar and salted the game away.

As awful as the Bruins played for the first 25 minutes, there were some positives to take from this game:
  1. Aaron Afflalo and Mike Roll were a combined 1-17 in this game, and that's not going to happen again. Credit the Mountaineer defense for some of that, credit that pathetic Pac 10 officials for at least one of those, but that's not going to happen again. Sometimes you just don't have it, and today, they didn't have it.
  2. The Bruins made a tremendous effort in the second half to get the game back to a point where they had a chance to win. It's possible, though perhaps unlikely, that these teams could meet in the NCAA tournament, and if that happens, the Bruins know that for a big stretch of this game, they dominated. Mentally, that's important. I could tell you why I think so, but you'd probably laugh, and and it would take a longer post.
  3. Jordan Farmar is starting to shake his offensive slump.
  4. I'm going to talk about this all year, but this team's window is next year. What we saw was a bunch of freshman and sophomores (and Ryan Hollins) playing a bunch of well coached seniors. This season presents the rare opportunity for the Bruins to compete while also learning a lot. This is just one more learning experience.
  5. Finally, this isn't a conference game. Sure, it's national TV. It's important. But they lost to a higher ranked team, and they acquitted themselves pretty well. And ultimately, they still lead the Pac 10.
Once again, the Pac 10 officials show that they're just flat out incompetent. Not biased, mind you, just incompetent. A WVU guard slams into Ryan Hollins, not foul. Aaron Afflalo nailed from behind on a layup attempt, no foul. And the coup de gras, Ryan Hollins hammers Pittsnogle at the three point line, no foul; Darren Collison hammered on a drive, no call; Jordan Farmar breathes on Mike Gansey, foul. The lack of consistency, the lack of recognition of the flow of the game, and the flat out lack of competence. The Pac 10 is the worst officiated conference in college basketball (and yes, these were Pac 10 officials).

Finally, I need to make the following point. I really think this game is going to be valuable for the Bruins. It's not going to do a thing to their NCAA resume. It helps their strength of schedule. It doesn't affect their position in the conference. It provides a great learning experience and some valuable exposure. But let's remember, these are the types of games that Ben Howland, God love him, wants to eliminate. The extra game during U$C week. The intersectional battles against good teams. He didn't schedule these games at Pitt, and he's been reluctant to schedule them at UCLA.

So to sum up, a very poor first half, a solid second half, and a good learning experience at essentially no cost. There are reasons to be optimistic.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Thrashers 6; Kings 8

In the fall of 1986, the Kings next superstar, the heir apparent to Marcel Dionne, made his debut. Selected with the second pick in the 1986 entry draft, Jimmy Carson was the player that would lead the Kings into the '90s, the star around whom the team would be built.

Also making his debut that night was a left wing with gaudy numbers in the QMJHL, but who surely couldn't skate well enough to stick in the NHL. Despite scoring 85 points in 70 games as a 17 year old, Luc Robitaille wasn't drafted by the Kings until the 171st pick, the ninth round, five rounds after the Kings selected future Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine. Robitaille responded with 339 points over his next two seasons with the Hull Olympiques before opening the 1986-1987 season in purple and gold. The kid who couldn't skate well enough to make an impact in the NHL scored 45 goals and added 39 assists in his rookie season and skated off with the Calder trophy. To his credit, Carson added 37 and 42 that season, and would score over 50 the next season. But the prodigy who was traded for Wayne Gretzky disappeared somewhere around 1994, while the slow kid kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring.

Almost 20 years later, Luc Robitaille has amassed 663 goals and 723 assists. He's the highest scoring left wing in the history of the NHL. He put together the greatest offensive season by a left wing in NHL history in 1992-1993 when he scored 63 goals and 62 assists for 125 points. He did that in a season where Wayne Gretzky missed a boatload of games with a back injury. Later that season, he helped lead the Kings to within three games of the Stanley Cup.

Tonight, currently in his third stint with the Kings after stops in Pittsburgh, New York, and Detroit, Robitaille scored the 550th, 551st, and 552nd goals of his career in a Kings uniform, passing Marcel Dionne, becoming the greatest goal scorer in the history of the Los Angeles Kings. They needed all three to hold off an immensely talented Atlanta team. In the first period, he laid a huge hit on Andy Sutton, and followed it up seconds later with a nifty move in front of the net to open the scoring, tying Dionne in the process. Seconds after that, Dustin Brown ripped home a rebound to put the Kings two goals in front. The lead was short lived, however, as the Thrashers took advantage of favorable bounces to tie the score. Jeff Giuliano put the Kings back on top late in the period. The second period was all Thrashers, as they scored three times to take a 5-3 lead before Tom Kostopolous redirected home a Matty Norstrom centering pass to cut the lead to one.

Nortstom continued to contribute offensively (he would finish with a goal and 4 assists) in the third with a rifle shot for a shorthanded goal that tied the score. A few minutes later, Mike Weaver made a perfect pass to spring Robitaille on a break away where he netted his second of the game, giving the Kings the lead, and making him the greatest goal scorer in Kings history. After a second Marian Hossa goal tied the score at six, Giuliano added his second of the night to retake the lead at 7-6, where it would stay until Robitaille capped the evening with a 140 foot shot at the empty net. For the 15th time in his NHL career, Robitaille completed the hat trick.

The win stops a two game slide where the Kings have looked fairly listless, and although they went through stretches tonight where Atlanta pretty much owned them, they fought back time and time again, and got contributions from some unlikely sources to turn back a Thrashers team that was on a roll. With five of the next six games against San Jose and Anaslime, the Kings needed to gather a little momentum. Garon will be back in goal on Saturday, and hopefully Visnovsky will have knocked off a little rust. They need to start skating a little better, and lordy do they need to cut down on the turnovers. But if they can win four of the next six, they'll be in fairly decent shape. The schedule softens up a bit before the Olympic break, when hopefully they'll get some of the wounded warriors back.

Luc made his debut when I was 13 years old, and over that time, he's been as close to a constant in the Kings lineup as anyone, save for his two forays into other uniforms. L.A.'s siren song has always called him home, and soon enough, his jersey will reside in Staples Center's rafters with Rogie Vachon's, Wayne Gretzky's, Dave Taylor's, and that of his mentor, Marcel Dionne. He's been a Kings since he made his debut, and every time he left, you always got the sense that it wouldn't be long before he was back in the Southland. Congratulations on a wonderful Kings career, Luc. Now if you can just play like that kid who wore the purple and gold again over the next 30 games or so, I think everyone will be very happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

U$C 45; UCLA 66

This one was over early, as the Bruins raced out to an 18-2 lead in roughly the first ten minutes and never looked back. It's not often that you say a game wasn't as close as a 21 point spread makes it appear, but honestly, that's the truth. It was complete and utter domination on both sides of the floor for the Bruins. Stout defense that frustrated the women of troy at every turn, and a very well run half court offense that created a lot of easy baskets. Good interior passing by the guards on penetration, and big men who could actually catch.

Farmar got the scoring rolling with three early three pointers, and although he struggled somewhat after that, it really didn't matter. Aaron Afflalo added a very quiet 11 points. LRMAM, who is cementing his status as the jewel of this freshman class, led the team again with seven rebounds to go along with his ten points, two coming on a very impressive tip jam of a Alfred Aboya miss (who drove to the basket on the play, which led me to realize that when he drives from the perimeter, he gets to the hoop in a hurry). By far the relative best line of the night, however, belonged to Ryan Hollins, who added 9 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. He was active, and at least two of those rebounds were on the offensive end. He also had a big blocked shot and a couple of dunks. He still has awful hands, but if he can contribute, that's a huge lift considering all of the injuries.

Pac-10 official watch: They blew at least 2 blatant out of bounds call, the first coming in the opening minutes when it was pretty clear to everyone who has ever watched basketball that it went out off of a U$C guy. Also, apparently there's a new rule that when you're down by 25, you get an extra two seconds in the lane, as the trojans twice scored points only after the shooter had enjoyed some smores, put out the fire, taken down the tent, packed up the truck, and left the campsite. Not that it mattered. I just marvel at how incompetent Pac 10 officiating has been this year (and seemingly every year, as the Chronicler will point out).

Big tilt with West Virginia this weekend. It would really help in the tournament seeding process, and serve notice to those on the East Coast that they still play basketball in Westwood.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quick Hits

Lightning - 4; Kings - 1

This is starting to get very frustrating. I understand the team is suffering from injuries, but in the last two games, they've had almost no one show up. The PK has been downright awful now for a couple of months, and they don't seem to be doing anything about it. Now Garon may be hurt, but then again, after the goal he gave up in the first period, I'm not sure how much that's going to hurt. Avery failed to convert a penalty shot, and their power play was downright pathetic. Just like last season, this team can weather injuries to some guys, even stars like Demitra and solid defensmen like Miller. But this team cannot survive without Lubo. If he misses significant time, the Kings might be done.

Illinois - 60; Indiana - 62

Valiant effort against a good team on the road. Once again they were undone by poor shooting and ultimately foul trouble, as Dee and Brian Randle fouled out. But Indiana is good. The whole Big Ten this year is very strong, and there's no shame in losing to the #11 team in the country on their home court. And there were some silver linings. For starters, Sean Pruitt had 17 points and 7 rebounds, both tops on the team. Randle added 15 as he attacked the basket a lot more in the second half. Chester Frazier looked pretty strong as well on the defensive end. The Illini really need Randle and Pruitt to provide offense, because teams have been keying on Dee and James Augustine. Not only do those the team need someone else to put points on the board, they need someone to take the defensive pressure off of the seniors.

Remember that Bruce Weber was 3-3 in his first six conference games with the 2003-2004 team before they took off and won their last ten conference games. I don't think they'll make a run like that again, mostly due to the strength of the conference, but if this team can make it click, and I think that what we saw out of Pruitt and Randle is an indication that they can, this team can be very good this year.

And not to Indiana fans, when you're the favorite, and you beat a team who's barely ranked ahead of you, on your own floor, by two after almost blowing a 15 point lead, after two of their best players have fouled out, well, rushing the floor makes you look like something less than a team with a storied tradition and 5 national championships.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The NFL Playoffs

I suppose this probably isn't the right time to say this, lest I be called a front-runner. I don't talk much about the NFL, mostly because I don't follow it that closely relative to other sports I like (baseball, hockey, etc.), which is to say, I still follow it more closely than 85% of the population, just not as closely as I follow baseball and hockey.

Anyway, truth be told, I'm a Broncos fan. Yes, I watched the game the other day, and yes, I'll be watching this weekend, and no, I didn't just become a Broncos fan last week. As it happened, one of Montana cousins moved to Denver around 1983 or so, which is the same time they got Elway. Shortly thereafter, we went to Montana for a cousin's wedding, and I stayed around an extra couple of weeks because they needed a little kid for another cousin's wedding. I drove down to Denver with the cousin who had just moved there and stayed for a couple of days before going home. Something about that confluence of events turned me into a Broncos fan, to the point of even rooting against the Rams when the Broncos came to town (full disclosure, I like the Pats as a kid, too, but that wore off - oh, and I stopped liking and started hating the Rams when they left LA).

So anyway, if you see me gloating after the Broncos hopefully win on Sunday, keep in mind it's not coming out of left field. I've actually been a Broncos fan for over 20 years.