Illinois over Minnesota
It wasn't pretty when these teams played the first time, and it wasn't pretty tonight. The teams combined for only 93 points, but Illinois had 52 of them, including the final 10 to avenge their loss in Minneapolis earlier this season. The win puts them in second in the Big Ten, and you have to think their spot in the field of 65 is pretty secure right now.
The best is still yet to come for the Illini, with a young team, and great classes lined up for the next two seasons, but one of the things that makes this team so interesting is the mix of youth and experience. They start three sophomores and two seniors, and the sophomores are their top three scorers. But they wouldn't be where they are right now with the seniors. Trent Meacham had 13 points, including a big three late in the second half, and Chester Frazier has just been phenomenal this year everywhere but on the offensive end. He does everything for this team except score, which is fine, because they don't need him to score, and he's just enough of a threat that teams occasionally still have to respect his offense. Off the bench, Calvin Brock has really had a great season. He's the best athlete on the team, and while he only had two points tonight, he finished with four steals in fourteen minutes.
As for the Sophs, Mike Tisdale didn't have a great game, but Mike Davis had another double-double. This is a kid that was barely recruited, was thisclose to heading to prep school before Bruce Weber swept in and offered him a scholarship, and now he's one of their most important players. Demetri McCamey is really shooting the ball well from long range, and he showed the ability to get in the paint and cause some trouble. He just needs to keep his head in the game on every possession.
Once again, the Illini finished with assists on almost 75% of their field goals. Their not a team that scores in isolation, nor do they put back a lot of offensive rebounds, so they need to work together to get the ball in the basket. It's fun to watch (when they score more than 33 points). I'm astounded that they're as good as they are this year. But I'm really glad they're back.
UCLA over Stanford
Mercifully, Fox College Sports kind of screwed up and didn't show the first 10 minutes of this game. When they finally cut over from the Wazzu-ASU game, UCLA had started to make their comeback, and played fairly well the rest of the way, doing just enough to pull off the victory on the road.
After a rough junior season shooting the ball (43%; 32% from three), Josh Shipp has been very reliable this year. He's up to 49% from the field, and 40% from three. He's had an excellent senior season, and he had a great game tonight, pouring in 24 points on 9/12 shooting, 4/5 from long range. The other surprising senior has been Alfred Aboya. He's stayed in games, his numbers are up in every category, and he hit four clutch free throws tonight to salt the game away.
On the other hand, contrary to what the Illini have seen, the young players have not lived up entirely to expectations. I don't really mean that as a knock, because expectations were REALLY high. Probably unfairly high. I've been impressed with Drew Gordon, and Malcolm Lee plays like a talented freshman, where maybe 3/5 plays are really good, but with a few mistakes mixed in. The jury is still out on Jerime Anderson. And honestly, I kind of feel bad for Jrue Holliday. We were spoiled with Kevin Love's polish last year, and I think we expected great things from Holliday this season. We've gotten inconsistency, which is really what you should get from a freshman. But he needs to defend better. That's where the Bruins are really lacking this season. I'll say right now that if he's a lottery pick, he should go. That's a lot of guaranteed money, with a new CBA looming. But if he does, I suspect that UCLA fans will be a bit disappointed with what they got, and Holliday will be a little disappointed with what he gave. Then again, we're almost to March, and perceptions can change really quickly when the tournament rolls around.
After a lackluster first ten minutes, the Bruins did something we haven't seen much of this year. They showed some heart. They made Stanford play at their tempo in the last ten minutes of the first half, and that got the Bruins back into the game. The squeaked out a lead in the second half, and they hung on, despite, as usual, some questionable road officiating. I loved the series of plays I saw from Aboya late in the game when he tipped in a Josh Shipp miss to give the Bruins a seven point lead at one end (gingerly avoiding an over the back call), then calmly stepped out of the way on a Josh Owens dunk. He realized he wasn't going to stop Owens, he avoided his fifth foul, and he was a critical component of the win down the stretch.
I still think the team that blitzed the Bay schools, U$C, and Notre Dame is out there, lurking. We'll just have to see whether that team shows up down the stretch. Saturday at Berkeley is going to be a big test, and how they respond will tell us a lot about what we can expect the rest of the way. They should sweep the Oregon schools, so a win Saturday keeps them in the hunt for a share of the conference title.
UC Riverside over Cal State Fullerton
Yay! Didn't see it. But they're 16-10, and over .500 in conference. I'm proud of my alma mater.