In what was arguably the team’s most spirited 40 minutes of the season, Illinois held serve at home on Sunday evening when it defeated Wisconsin by 8 points at the Assembly Hall.
While far from playing a perfect game, Illinois encouraged with its competitiveness, toughness and concentration against a Wisconsin team that really struggled from the field, leading to some very positive observations.
○ I thought Bruce Weber really did a great job on the sidelines against the Badgers. While it helped that his team executed out of timeouts, Weber was really on the ball all night long. With Jereme Richmond struggling with an Achilles tweak, Weber started Bill Cole, who scored five quick points and provided a great spark. With Brandon Paul struggling in recent weeks, Weber ran two inbound plays for the sophomore guard, leading to a three point shot and an aggressive drive to the basket that resulted in two made free throws. With Illinois engaged in a tight game with Wisconsin roughly ten minutes in the first half, Weber helped the Illini build a lead by going to a play that worked quite well against the Badgers last season, the pick and pop with Mike Tisdale, who hit two jumpers in a dominant couple of minutes to play. To Weber’s credit, he picked and chose when to run this play as opposed to going to it far too often, which was a problem at the end of the 2009-2010 season. With Tisdale picking up foul trouble in the second half, Weber went to Meyers Leonard, who provided a spark with an offensive board and a nasty dunk plus the foul (and made free throw) on a beautiful setup from Richmond. All in all, Weber had the Illini ready, and the team didn’t settle for the three ball like Wisconsin and rather attacked the rim, leading to a 22 to 12 advantage in free throws.
○ From the get go to the end of Sunday’s win, Demetri McCamey had his best game of the season on only eight shots. Here’s why. McCamey attacked off the bounce as opposed to dribbling the ball to death on the perimeter and going nowhere. Early on, McCamey got into the lane to feed Cole for a dunk and set up several other teammates for easy buckets as the game was a back-and-forth affair during the first 10 minutes. By being on the attack, McCamey got Jordan Taylor in foul trouble and kept the Badgers off balance all night. Usually, Wisconsin is the team that gets its opponent off balance. On Sunday, the Illini turned the tables thanks to McCamey setting the tone. And when the game was on the line in the second half, McCamey came up with several clutch threes and continued getting into the lane and to the free throw line. All in all, McCamey dominated while playing aggressive yet under control.
○ In referring to senior forward Mike Davis in the past, Weber has talked about how it is easy for Davis to get double-digit rebounds on some nights yet often posed the question of whether those rebounds were always noticeable. On Sunday, Davis had his best game of the season in my opinion, grabbing 14 very noticeable rebounds due to great toughness and concentration. While Wisconsin was bigger on the interior, Davis was a force, getting good position and leaping high to secure the ball. Thanks to Davis, the Illini outrebounded Wisconsin 31 to 24. While Wisconsin had an 11 to 5 advantage on the offensive glass, sometimes due to long rebounds off missed threes, Illinois was the far more tougher team on the interior, something that I haven’t seen all season long. Credit Davis and Cole (4 rebounds) for setting this tone early on.
○ While Mike Tisdale has really struggled in the past few weeks, he seemed more focused against the Badgers, going 4-for-4 in the first half, scoring his first bucket on a nice offensive rebound and put-back, hitting several jumpers in the pick and pop game, and making a nice turnaround hook. After doing a lazy job of closing out on Keaton Nankivil in the first half, as seen on two of the big man’s three threes, Tisdale closed out and ran at the three-point line with much more urgency in the second half. While he picked up some needless fouls again and was quiet in the second half, Tisdale at least contributed, providing an efficient performance that revealed how he can be an effective, complementary piece on this team as opposed to a go-to guy.
○ I still can’t believe Illinois got to the line 22 times compared to just 12 times for the Badgers, which hoisted up 35 threes. Illinois had great balance on Sunday, taking 12 and making 6 threes and getting Wisconsin into foul trouble as a result of using the dribble. While Illinois never gets to the foul line because it is a jump-shooting and finesse team, it was a revelation to see the Illini attack off the bounce. As a result of getting to the line, Illinois was able to control the game and attain beautiful balance, with McCamey leading the team with 8 shots, Cole and Davis each shooting 7 shots, Tisdale and Paul each taking 5, and D.J. Richardson and Richmond getting 4 and 3 shots, respectively. With Illinois shooting well above 50% from the field in both Big Ten games, the Illini will need to keep driving and getting to the line on those nights when the jump shots aren’t falling.
○ As for the Badgers, I was shocked that they hoisted up so many threes and didn’t go to Leuer more on the block. Granted, Illinois gave Wisconsin some wide open threes in the second half (and needs to work on recovering to and closing out on the three-point line) but the Badgers couldn’t find the stroke for the most part.
○ Illinois had 12 turnovers compared to just 3 for Wisconsin, but I can live with the Illini making some of the mistakes that they did because they were playing so hard.
Here are some individual player comments.
21 points (4-8 from the field, 2-3 from three, 11-15 from the foul line), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 turnovers and 1 foul in 35 minutes
○ A brilliant game for McCamey, who shot three more free throws than the entire Wisconsin team. By attacking off the dribble, McCamey got his teammates involved early, kept Wisconsin on its heels and racked up some fouls against the Badgers. And when the Illini absolutely needed it, McCamey buried two big threes in the second half to put Illinois up double digits. As stated earlier, McCamey had his best game of the season, in terms of overall dominance.
6 points (2-4 from the field, 0-1 from the three, 2-2 from the line), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, 1 steal and 4 fouls in 31 minutes
○ Got only four shots, but hit two tough pop-back jumpers that were big, and played great defense on Jordan Taylor, who had to earn each and every one of his 19 points. Richardson was the best defender on the Illini last season, and has continued to grow in that role this season.
11 points (4-7 from the field, 3-5 from three), 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 fouls in 29 minutes
○ I’ll admit that I was nervous when I saw Cole in the starting lineup instead of Richmond, thinking that Weber had lost faith in the freshman with a tough team like Wisconsin in town. However, when I saw Richmond’s limited mobility on a layup that he had blocked in the second half, Cole’s start made absolute sense. Cole played great, as has been the case in the last three games, providing a spark early on and looking for his shot. Cole scored Illinois’ first points of the game on a three off another effective inbound play from Weber, and had a dunk inside off a nice feed from McCamey. It’s great to see Cole taking the open shot and playing with confidence. With each game lately, I’m liking Cole more and more, who is growing into that solid senior role that players like Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham have occupied in the past.
11 points (5-7 from the field, 1-2 from the line), 14 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 block and 1 foul in 37 minutes
○ Davis played like a man against the Badgers, controlling the boards and scoring with great efficiency. Davis is such a joy to watch when he is active and engaged. No doubt about it, Davis was the best player for both teams on the interior, outplaying the more physical Leuer.
8 points (4-5 from the field, 0-1 from three), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 2 blocks and 3 fouls in 29 minutes
○ Most encouraging to me was the fact that Tisdale looked ready to play and make an impact against the Badgers, which hasn’t seemed to be the case since the Gonzaga game. Tisdale scored six straight points in one stretch of the first half as Illinois developed a working lead.
7 points (2-5 from the field, 1-2 from three, 2-2 from the foul line), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 2 fouls in 18 minutes
○ Paul scored all 7 points in the first half and got going early thanks to some good play calls from Weber. I really liked Paul’s activity and decision making in this game, and he finally got a steal after failing to do so in more than a handful of games.
2 points (1-3 from the field), 0 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 foul in 10 minutes
○ Was slowed by an Achilles tweak, and it showed in his minutes and zero rebounds. Richmond forced his only make, and got a nice bounce on that basket, but made a beautiful feed to Leonard on a second-half dunk that resulted in a three-point play.
3 points (1-1 from the field, 1-1 from the line), 1 rebound, 1 turnover and 1 foul in 8 minutes
○ Just as Tisdale picked up some questionable fouls in the second half, Leonard provided a spark off the bench, hustling down an offensive rebound during which he was pushed and fouled out of bounds, and then slamming home a nasty one-handed dunk on a feed from Richmond and finishing at the line for the three-point play.
0 points (0-1 from the field) in 3 minutes
○ While Griffey deserves more than the 3-4 minutes that he’s been getting recently, I’ll live with his minutes on this day, especially with Davis playing so well and Leonard making some things happen on the court. Griffey surrendered five points on defense, failing to get back on a Nankivil three after helping on a screen, and getting posted by Leuer in the first half. Griffey still has a way to go defensively, but so do the other Illini big men. I’d still like to see Weber get Griffey involved more as he usually does some good things when getting decent minutes.
0 points in less than a minute
○ Came in with less than a minute to go as Weber got McCamey out of the game to get a deserved standing ovation from the Assembly Hall crowd.
Crandall Head, Kevin Berardini, Jean Selus
○ None of these players played against Wisconsin.
Until next time.
Topics: Assembly Hall, Bill Cole, Bo Ryan, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Illini, Illini Basketball, Illinois, Illinois Basketball, Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball, Jean Selus, Jereme Richmond, Jerrance Howard, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor, Joseph Bertrand, Keaton Nankivil, Kevin Berardini, Meyers Leonard, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois, Wisconsin Badgers, Writing Illini