Friday, February 23, 2007

An Historic Evening

  • Roughly 2000 years ago, give or take, Jesus quelled the unrest of a group of wedding guests looking to get wasted by turning water into wine.
  • In 1858, in a grotto near Lourdes, France, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14 year old peasant girl. Since then thousands of people have been miraculously cured at site.
  • On February 22, 2007, Lorenzo Mata made eight of nine free throws.

UCLA once against shook off a slow start last night, especially on the defensive end (UC Berkeley made 9 of their first 12 shots), only to come out on a mission in the second half, blowing the Bears out of the water in the process. The 10 point final margin was no indication of just how badly the Bruins dominated Berkeley. At one points, the Bruins turned what was once a 9 point deficit into a 25 point lead before garbage time cut into that advantage.

For the second straight game, Josh Shipp asserted himself with 22 points on 9-12 shooting to go along with six assists. He benefited from a flurry of fast breaks in the second half as the Bruins extended their lead. Aaron Afflalo added 13 of his own, while Darren Collison, who suffered from early foul trouble in the first half, was able to take the night off and let the rest of the team do the heavy lifting. As a team, the Bruins shot 61% from the field. Special recognition should also go to Russell Westbrook, coming off a couple of games in which he didn't get big minutes, he stepped in after Collison's second foul and immediately scored five quick points, trimming an eight point deficit to three, and keeping UC Berkeley from padding their lead early. His arrival also coincided with a defensive clampdown that helped UCLA erase that deficit and take a one point lead into the half.

How easy were the baskets coming? UCLA made - MADE - eight more three pointers against Arizona than they TOOK against Berkeley. They simply didn't need to settle for a lot of jump shots.

On the other end, Berkeley held their own, shooting 60%, and really lit it up from three point range. Of course, a fair amount of that shooting percentage was due to poor play by the Bruin bench after the game was decided, when UC Berkeley trimmed a 21 point deficit to the final losing margin. Indeed, a look at the peripheral numbers doesn't show the blowout that this came between. UCLA had the turnover edge (8-12), rebounding edge (23-20), and made two more free throws. Those numbers don't scream blowout. But that will happen when the game is basically over by the under-eight TV time out.

The story of the game, however, was Lorenzo Mata. Nine free throws, and eight through the hoop. How significant was that? He entered the game shooting 31% from the line. He left it shooting 38%. That's a seven per cent increase for a starting center, and it's late February. He's now 10 of his last 11. This is still a blip, and not quite yet a trend, but if he keeps up something close to this new level, it will make a big strategic difference for Ben Howland going into the post-season. Before the Arizona game, Mata's free throw shooting was so bad that he simply couldn't be on the floor when the Bruins had the ball in the final four minutes of the game. Couple that with Howland's fetish for using all his time-outs with about eight minutes left, and that means that Mata, their best shot blocker, couldn't be out there for defense either. This new development, if indeed it is indicative of a new level of ability, changes everything.

Combined with Wazzu's loss at Oregon (nice last possession, Cougs), UCLA takes a two game conference lead into Saturday's game at Stanford. Win that, and they clinch a share of the conference title. Lose on Saturday and they can still win the outright title in Pullman next Thursday, but they would jeopardize their number one seed, especially with games against two tough teams in their gyms next week.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Don't Know is on Third

A few weeks ago, the Angels were poised to enter the season with five different guys who could end up at third base. Chone Figgins was, and probably still is, the most likely candidate with the outfield more or less spoken for at this point. Additionally, camp begins with Maicer Izturis, Shea Hillenbrand, and Robb Quinlan among the guys who could see time at the hot corner. Dallas McPherson's back surgery had trimmed that list to those four. Well, add one more back to the list.

The Angels are starting camp with phenom Brandon Wood taking grounders at third base in preparation for a possible and pretty much expected inevitable move from shortstop. And while I'm linking, can anyone explain why the hell the LA Times is printing both an "Angels Report" and an "Angels Beat", which is essentially the same, yet slightly different article? Anyway, Mike Scioscia has been quick to point out that they're not giving up on Wood as a shortstop, for whatever that's worth.

Actually, this isn't particularly surprising. There aren't a lot of at bats to go around at shortstop this spring, what with Orlando Cabrera, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, and (I assume) Sean Rodriguez all in camp. And the Angels are no strangers to bringing up a guy they think is ready while also creating a position for him on the fly (see also: Howie Kendrick at first base; Chone Figgins everywhere). I won't be surprised if Wood returns to short at Salt Lake, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they simply decided that they have enough depth at the six that it makes sense to get Wood more seasoning at third base.

I don't really think this is a big deal, and it's a pretty unsurprising move. It's not like moving Erstad from center to first base, where there's a huge drop in the value of an average bat. Wood will still have a lot of value as a third baseman, though perhaps not as much as at short. That difference could be made up on defense. To the extent there's been any Angels "news" lately, I guess this is it.

Last Dance

Chief Illiniwek has pranced across the Assembly Hall floor for the last time. It was apparently an emotional moment for some, and the Chief broke tradition by running back on to the floor after the performance to salute the building and the fans one last time. I've already posted on this, and my position is pretty clear. Anyway, if you want to see the final performance for yourself, have at it.

The Illini beat Michigan last night at the Assembly Hall, pushing them to 8-6 on the season, and bringing them within one win of a guaranteed winning record in the Big Ten, to go along with 20+ wins. A lot of people are hoping a win at Iowa or Penn State will be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. I'm not so sure. Win both and they're in. Win one, and they probably need at least one conference tournament victory. Lose both and they're probably done, barring some sort of crazy Corey Bradford-like run to the conference championship game.

This one wasn't available for people who don't have ESPNU, which is pretty much everyone who doesn't have DirecTV. As such, I missed it. The teams combined to shoot only 36%, so maybe the TV people were just saving us from ourselves. Sounded like they came out really determined in the second half, and after taking a lead into the break, they broke it open early in the half, and never really let Michigan back into it.

Warren Carter was the big star, with 18 and 9, going 3-4 from beyond the arc. Rich McBride, was the only other Illini in double figures with 11, and to round out the senior night trio, Marcus Arnold had four points in 16 minutes.

As the speculation over the future of Jamar Smith continues, it's worth noting that he was at the game last night, seated with the team and next to teammate Brian Carlwell, who continues to recover from a severe concussion. Much of the message board discussion has centered around Smith's unfortunate and strange decision to not call for help while Carlwell sat unconscious in the car. It would appear that, at least in Carlwell's opinion, there are no hard feelings.

I'm not sure how Coach Weber will end up dealing with the situation. There are reports that no fewer than six players were at the apartment after Smith drove the car home from the accident site. I don't feel comfortable speculating about the reasons that none of them called 911, and maybe there's some sort of explanation. I can't fathom what it might be, or how that many guys could screw up by letting Jamar and Brian get in the car to begin with.

As for Jamar's future, there's still a very real possibility of jail time that we can't simply ignore. Barring that, and assuming Jamar ends up with some combination of probation/community service/alchohol awareness training, I think if I were Coach Weber I would "suspend" Jamar for the 2007-2008 season. Make him redshirt. Set goals for things like grades, service, etc. Make him earn his spot back on the time by re-earning the trust of the team, the student body, and the community. Furthermore, I would lay this all out for Jamar and let him decide whether he wants to go through that. I have no doubts that he could leave the U of I, and head to a D-2 or lower school and play next year. And if he decides he can't live up to those terms, then you wish him luck wherever he ends up. But ultimately, Jamar is the one deciding whether Jamar returns to the Illini. I don't like the idea of a zero tolerance policy for the team. I don't like zero tolerance policies in general. But I wouldn't have a problem imposing one specifically on Jamar in this instance.

On to Penn State this weekend to see if the Illini can take one more step towards an NCAA tournament birth.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jamar Smith - Multiple Charges

Via Mark Tupper:
Smith is charged with one count of Aggravated Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, a class 4 felony, in that he drove a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in great bodily harm to Brian Carlwell, and with one count of Leaving the Scene of a Personal Injury Accident, a class 3 felony, in that he was involved in a motor vehicle accident which resulted in personal injury and failed to stop his vehicle and remain at the scene and further failed to report the accident to authorities within 30 minutes after the accident as required.
I'll admit, I did everything possibly to think the best, and all along my position was to wait for the facts to come out, but this sounds like the worst case scenario, or at least what became the worst case scenario after both players were sent home from the hospital. This is huge:
Further investigation revealed that Smith had gone to his apartment in the College Fields complex. A number of other basketball team members were in the apartment. It appears that Smith was distraught, as he believed Carlwell had died in the crash. Based on the investigation, there is no evidence that Smith had anything alcoholic to drink following the crash. At approximately 1:00 a.m., witnesses and U of I police officers located Smith and transported him to Carle Hospital, where he was treated and released. Smith submitted to blood testing. Illinois State Police lab preliminary laboratory analysis indicates that Smith’s blood alcohol content was .176
I'm not sure quite what to think, other than I'm not quite sure how Weber survives this, when added to all of the other disciplinary issues this team has been through in the last few years. I mean, it sounds like half the team was there. There's more:
They then saw the tall man and a second man return, approach the car, and then leave and go back into the building. The witnesses called 911 at 11:40 p.m. No other 911 calls were made. Sheriff’s deputies and U of I police arrived, and found Brian Carlwell unconscious in the car. He was removed from the vehicle and taken to Carle Hospital.
I suppose that's consistent with Jamar being drunk, concussed, and probably freaked over thinking he'd just killed his friend. For whatever reason, I'm not as concerned by that as some would be. But the idea that he was more than double the legal limit AND HOME AT THE TIME, and still got in his car, that's just dumb, and the result was predictable, especially in those conditions. I've probably driven at times when I shouldn't have, and I have friends who have done the same. It's not something I'm proud of. But I've never been dumb enough to leave home after I was already drunk. Geez, just let the big guy crash on your couch. I've gotta think Jamar's career at Illinois is finished. I'm not sure I'd let Carlwell play again this season, even if he's cleared to play physically.

Honestly, I think the only thing Weber can do is suspend everyone who was at the party and let these two get in a car. And if that means they play with five guys, so be it. If it costs them a shot at the post-season, so be it. Of course, the obvious question would be why didn't he do that before Sunday's game, but I can sympathize with an explanation along the lines of not wanting to interfere with an investigation, or start something that was going to spread even more rumors.

I have no idea what's going to happen next. But I can almost guarantee that the outcome will be too harsh for some people, and not severe enough for others.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is kinda cool

Via Tbogg and Sadly, No!, apparently there's a site that allows you to create a playlist from songs it culls from other websites, or something. Check it: