Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Michigan 51; Illinois 66

A week ago, the Illini had Michigan down for much of the game in Ann Arbor, but couldn't hold on in the last five minutes, and they let the Wolverines pull away.  Tonight the Illini let the Wolverines hang around for much of the evening, but used a 17-4 run in a ten minute second half stretch to blow the game open, taking the 24th ranked Michigan down for the 12th straight time in Champaign.  

He looks like he'll blow over in a strong wind, and his 7,000 calorie per day diet doesn't appear to be working just yet, but Mike Tisdale is a skilled big man, and he used an excellent shooting touch to score 24 points.  He scored the Illini's first nine points of the second half, turning a 31-30 halftime deficit into a 39-34 Illini advantage, and the Illini never trailed again.  He made 10 of his 12 shots from the field, and finished with more blocks (3) than rebounds (2).  He let Mike Davis take care of the rebounding.  Davis finished with seven boards, though only two points.

Demetri McCamey showed a bit of a 'too cool' attitude in much of the first half, but still found a way to score 15 first half points on his way to 17 for the game, to go along with 5 assists and 3 boards.  Trent Meacham once again struggled from the field against Michigan, making only 2 of 9 shots, but finished as the third Illini in double figures with 11 points.

Michigan can be a very good team, but they showed tonight that they still have some work to do.  Unlike in Ann Arbor, they didn't shoot the ball well, and made only 27% of their three pointers.  I said last week that if they shoot 40% from long range, they win, and if they shoot 30% they lose.  They made me look smart tonight.  Still, they're a tough team to play.  They take so many threes that they end up with a lot of offensive boards on long rebounds, and those can be deflating after 25-30 seconds of tough defense.  Both of these teams figure to be resting on the first day of the Big Ten tournament, and are young enough that they still have time to make big strides.

Next up for the Illini is Michigan State in East Lansing.  The Spartans didn't look great tonight against Penn State, but that was in State College, and I expect them to be ready to roll on Saturday, which is too bad, because a loss this weekend probably means another failure to break into the top 25, even though the Illini have been deserving for weeks.  Then again, an upset would really put the Illini into good position in the conference race, having already beat Purdue at Mackey.  I have a feeling that Mike Tisdale is going to get a little beat up, though.  Michigan doesn't play the physical style that the Spartans bring, and that could mean a much tougher evening for the thin big man than he saw tonight.  The Illini will have to counter with tough on-ball defense, and the athleticism of Mike Davis.  If they're going to win, I think the Illini will need a big contribution from Calvin Brock.  He's the best athlete on the team, and if he can come out and score 8-10 first half points, he could give Illinios a big lift.

Still, a 3-1 conferece start is something to be excited about, and pretty much every Illinois fan should be very encouraged by the 15 wins the Illini have put up so far.  

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