Saturday, January 28, 2006

Purdue 58; Illinois 76

Well, the home/road Jekyll and Hyde routine continues as the Illini looked very good once again on their home floor, save for the first few minutes when they trailed by as many as nine. As I've mentioned before, it's just something I'm going to have to get used to, as last year, the Illini seemed to execute to perfection regardless of where they were playing, except maybe Ann Arbor and the last few minutes in Columbus.

Today saw the (let's hope) arrival of Richard McBride, who didn't seem content to hang out on the perimiter and launch threes. He finished the game with 19 points on six fied goals, only three of which were from beyond the arc. I'm not gonna pour through the box scores, but this is the first time I can ever remember McBride getting more points from non-three point areas on the floor than from long range. He even went 4-4 from the free throw line. Really! Four free throws! From McBride!! Just let that sink in for a minute.

Dee played OK, throwing in 12 points, and struggling from the field a bit. But he did put together about a 15 second hilight reel during which he made a terrific move and scored on a circus shot, followed that up with a rebound at the other end, which he proceeded to took down the floor before lobbing a perfect pass to Randle for yet another alley-oop. That wasn't the only monster jam of the afternoon, as Randle added another, and Augustine made a steal up top that he turned into one of his patented break away jams. Dee also added nine assists against only two turnovers, while Augie grabbed 12 more boards, extending his record as Illinois' all time leading rebounder.

So this closes the soft part of the schedule, and the Illini took care of business. The next stetch gets a little tougher, starting with Tuesday night's tilt at Wisconsin. Win that game, and the Illini ove into the driver's seat for the conference championship. But not everyone can be North Dakota State. Wins at the Kohl center don't come easy (they come easier than wins at the Hall for road teams, but still...). Coming off of two fine performances at home against teams that aren't very good, Illini Nation will be fired up for Tuesday night.

Sucks 6; Kings 2

For now, I'm going to stop caring abou this train wreck of team. Lord knows the players have stopped caring.

UCLA 63; OSU 54

For the second time this season, the Bruins went on the road and swept their Pac 10 opponents. That's something that you might expect to do once in a season, but twice out of four opportunities, let alone your first two trips, well, that's pretty special. I'll grant you, only one of those sweeps came while playing a very good team (Arizona, who admittedly is down a bit this year), and I'd be shocked if they swept the Bay Area schools and/or the Washington Schools. But they've beaten teams who have generally held their own at home (OSU beat U of A by 10 at home).

The key word for today's game was 'balance'. Four Bruins scored in double figures, and none of those four had more than 14 points (LRMAM). Three Bruins had seven or more rebounds, Aaron Afflalo leading the way with 10 as LRMAM failed to lead the team in boards for only the second time this season. And once again, the Bruins completey took their opponent out of their offense, holding the Beavers to only 24 points in the second half. Chris Stephens and Nick Dewitz, who normally combine for about 26-27 points combined for only 8 this afternoon. And although Sasha Cuic, who quite frankly acted like a little bitch after fouling Ryan Hollins, had 24 points, he was pretty much their only offense.

The second half of the Pac 10 season gets a lot harder for the Bruins. They travel to the Bay and to Washington in what will be their toughest road trips of the season. It's not outside the realm of possibility that they could lose all four games, though I think a split is more likely. Also, they play in the dark jerseys against U$C, which I hesitate to call a road game. They're 7-2 in the conference, and I think the team that wins the regular season will have to be 14-4, or possibly 13-5 at worse. That's a tall order, but these guys are road warriors, and with Bozeman working his way back in, they're certainly capable. Perhaps the biggest key will be Ryan Hollins, who had 11 and 7 today. He's had three straight games now where he has made significant contributions, which I think matches his entire Bruin career to this point. If he keeps it going, they will be tough to beat.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Oilers 5; Kings 3

It's frustrating watching a team that looks like they just don't feel like playing hard sometimes. I don't know what it is. I mean, I'm sure they are playing hard, but the Kings were completely outworked tonight, save for a short stretch in the second period when they popped in two goals to take a brief one goal lead.

They were playing a team who was on their second of back to back nights, both games on the road, and they failed to come out with any jump, taking a penalty on the first shift, and giving up, what else, another power play goal just seconds later. Other than that, there was really not much to say about this one. They were outplayed in virtually every aspect of the game. They now sit five points back of Dallas, who has three games in hand, and this recent slump is bringing them back to the Pacific Division pack. Not a good time to go into a slump.

Honestly, I have no idea how to read this team. But like I said the other day, when they win, it's a struggle, and when they lose, they go down without much of a fight. That doesn't bode well for the rest of the season.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

UCLA 56; Oregon 49

The old adage says that the way to win the Pac 10 is to win all of your home games and split on the road. The Bruins have already lost two home games, so that means to make up for it, they need to sweep at least twice on the road. Mission accomplished in Arizona a few weeks ago. After tonight, the Bruins have a chance to sweep in Oregon.

This is the second time I've actually watched Oregon play this year, and I've come to a conclusion: Oregon is awful. This game would have been very embarrassing were the Bruins to lose. Their streaky shooters, they don't run a very attractive offense, and quite frankly, they look like a Lavin coached team minus the talent. Still, they were able to hang around with the help of about 15 extra seconds on the shot clock, officials who can only see jersey pulls when the jersey is yellow, and an obscure rule that says if you breathe on Ivan Watson, you get whistled. But ultimately, the Bruins began to attack the basket in the late stages of the game, they got to the free throw line, and they pulled out the victory, thanks in no small part to shutting the Ducks down completely in the last ten minutes of the game. Brandon Lincoln hit a three pointer with just under eight minutes to play, and that was the last field goal that the Ducks would make. Their last seven points came from the free throw line. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that although Ryan Wright and Darren Collison took tiny steps backward, LRMAM continued to show that he is the best freshmen in this class as he contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds (leading the team yet again).

Let's just be fortunate that this one is out of the way and get prepared for Oregon State. Mac Court is a tough place to play, and although they didn't play that well, the Bruins were able to grab the victory. At 6-2, they lead the Pac 10 by a half game over Arizona, and full game over Washington, who lost to Cal. With a win at OSU, they can really take the reins in the conference race.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gophers 53; Fighting Illini 77

Late this afternoon, my boss walked by my desk and struck up a quick conversation about the Illini with me and a colleague. They more or less agreed that the Illini are somewhat overrated in the middle of the top ten. It sounded about right at first, mostly because I think we're all still comparing this team with last year's team, and let's face it, we're not used to losing hardly ever. But just look at their resume. They're 18-2, with both losses coming on the road against teams who are either entrenched in or have sniffed the top 25. They have wins over Michigan State, at Oregon, Georgetown, at North Carolina, and Xavier. They have 10 wins of 19 points or more, and a few over 30. Sure, some of those came against no name opponents, but give them credit for taking care of business (ya listening, Wisconsin?).

So are they really overrated at #7? I think we see them play ugly games like at Iowa, and at Northwestern. We remember the one point win against Wichita State. We see them trying to force the offense a little too much, and we see them waiting for Dee to take bad shots at the end of the shot clock, and we can't fathom why they're rated so close to last year's near perfect team. Honestly, we might never see an Illinois team run an offense as smoothly as the they ran it last year. But the defense, by all accounts, may very well be better, as Bruce Weber believes. They're deeper, and Brian Randle is a true shut down small forward who can guard bigger players as well as smaller, quicker players, without missing a beat.

Tonight, especially in the second half, we saw just why they're ranked in the top ten. The moved the ball on offense. They passed out of the double team in the post. They worked for and hit open threes, and individually, they started playing like we've wanted to see them play. Sean Pruitt was more active in the post than his numbers indicate. Brian Randle, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, attacked the basket on numerous occasions, including a high flying alley-oop dunk on a great lob by Jamar Smith. Smith was on fire himself, hitting 5 three pointers on 8 attempts and finishing with sixteen points. And like they must be for the Illini to win, Augie and Dee were solid yet again, Augie finishing with 13 and 9, while Dee added a team high 17 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. The hilight for me was the lazer beam Dee threw to Augustine in the post from the top of key for an easy dunk. Now granted, Minnesota is not a great team by any means, and the Illini were at the Hall, where, for opponents, stealing a victory has become tougher than scaling Everest (I believe that's 32 straight).

This conference is going to be filled with battles night in and night out, as Iowa showed Indiana and Michigan showed Michigan State (who blew a 10 point lead in Ann Arbor). There's no shame in losing on the road. But tonight, the Illini showed that the pollsters are getting right so far.

Kings 1; Sharks 4

Let's face it. The Sharks just have the Kings' number this year. This game was truly painful to watch, as the Kings generated virtually no offense, and took penalty after penalty in the second period, including a roughing call on Avery which negated a break by Corvo, and resulted in a power play goal that more or less put the game out of reach. It's weird that some nights they can look like an offensive juggernaut, while on others, they look like they really need Demitra back in the lineup as soon as possible.

Corvo had the lone goal, a power play goal that he scored with a rocket shot from just inside the left face of circle, giving him 11 on the year. The production from the blue line has been a nice surprise, but their inability to stop their opponents power play has really killed them lately.

One thing I've been noticing recently, the Boston game notwithstanding, is that when the Kings win, they seem to be doing it in close contests, either coming from behind, or barely hanging on. When they lose, they've generally lost pretty handily. I haven't checked the recent scores or anything, so I'm just making this up as I go along, but it's my perception anyway. Hopefully that will change and they'll get to previous solid play when they get some guys, most notably Miller and Demitra, back from injury, which is looking more and more like it will be after the Olympic break.

By the way, is it just me, or is "Beat L.A." just about the most unoriginal chant ever? Of course, this was coming from arguably the stupidest fanbase in the NHL (per my experience), so it's to be expected.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kings 3; Sucks 2 (F-SO)

Another night of Mr. Magoo meant another night of worn out paths to the penalty box. Although this game wasn't as penalty riddled as others, it had enough to kill a fair amount of the flow, and as a result, the game seemed disjointed at times. Alexander Frolov returned to the lineup for the Kings and made his presence felt with a second period short handed goal, which I believe gives the Kings 10 for the season. They've needed them, because they can't stop anyone on the power play, and last night was no exception, as the Ducks got the goal right back shortly thereafter, still on the double minor.

Undaunted, the Kings fought back to tie the score in the third period. Lubomir Visnovsky, just recently back in the lineup himself, made a great play to shrug off a check at the right point, got the puck to Derek Armstong who wheeled around to the right wing and fired a pass to Luc Robitaille, who had been charging right down the slot. Robitaille scored a classis Luc goal, re-directing home a perfect pass from Armstrong right from the door-step. Most of his best work has been at a range of about two feet.

The Kings wasted a power play opportunity at the beginning of the overtime, and from that point on, the teams seemed content to take it to the shoot out. After Garon stopped Chris Kunitz, Alexander Frolov rifled one through J.S. Giguere to put the Kings up one. Andy McDonald responded with a backhander to even it up, before Robitaille ripped one over Giguere's shoulder to retake the lead. Teemu Selanne evened it up yet again, while Michael Cammalleri fired one wide to send the shootout to extra rounds. Garon would come up with saves on Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, with Giguere shutting down Craig Conroy before Joe Corvo stepped up. 14 stickhandles later, Corvo slid the puck past the prove Giguere, and the Kings beat the Ducks in a shootout for the second time this season.

That's three points in the first two games of this very important stretch of seven which continues with San Jose tonight, and includes games with Phoenix, Edmonton, and two more with Anaheim. If they could come up with ten of a possible fourteen points, that would be a nice way to go into the soft spot (Minnesota, Columbus, and Chicago) of the schedule before matching up with Dallas right before the Olympic break.