It took finding out there was a women's basketball in play for the first eight minutes of the game to get the Illini shooting a little.
"Our kids said something right away, but I was like, 'You guys are
just missing shots, shut up and play,'" Illinois head coach Bruce Weber
said after the game. "I kept saying, they're scoring, it can't be too
bad of a ball!"
And though the Illini went on to trail by as much as nine points in
the second half, they immediately reeled off an 18-0 run and were able
to rally for a 74-63 win over a VERY game Oakland Golden Grizzlies
By Paul Schmidt
Oakland coach Greg Kampe was actually somewhat happy with the smaller ball.
"Quite frankly, I wanted to keep the smaller ball," Kampe said. "Hey,
we were winning with that ball! I don't know what was wrong with it!"
All joking aside, the Grizzlies were dominant in post, out-rebounding
the Illini by 11, even though that wasn't enough for the win. NBA
prospect Keith Benson was held in check by the vast depth of the Illini
front line, posting only 11 points and seven rebounds, both his second
lowest totals on the season.
The Illini defended the stronger, athletic Benson with Mike Tisdale,
Mike Davis, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Griffey and even Jereme Richmond, and
that left him struggling for opportunities.
The Illini defense continued to improve on the young season, and one
of the biggest things that jumps out at you is their ability to fill the
passing lanes. Illinois has been so disruptive in the passing lanes
early on in the season that it invokes memories of the Flyin' Illini.
"I think one, there's more pride. They are fighting for passes,
taking away things and getting deflections," Weber said. "I think the
next thing is we're playing team defense. When somebody does get beat,
now we've got somebody there, and now it's the next rotation."
The problem is finding that defensive consistency, and the Illini didn't have that on the night.
"I don't think the first half we really did that, or early we didn't
do it," Weber said. "Now, as the game went on, we did it better and
better, and it was the helping, the helper. I think we're much better at
that, it's what we've worked on, and even Tis fought in the post. He
didn't get a lot of touches in there, especially in his sweet spot, but
he fought. They're all fighting in there more, and they've got more
pride, and we've got more guys that are just better defenders."
The story of the game though wasn't the resiliency of the talented
Illini -- A comeback to win after trailing in the first half and at
halftime was, after all, to be expected.
In reality, the story was just how solid Oakland was. Athletically
they had some trouble matching up, but were very capable of shutting
down the Illini for long stretches of the game.
Kampe knew that his team had missed an opportunity Wednesday night.
"We're really close, obviously," Kampe said after the game. "UNC came
in here and got their rear ends beat pretty bad. We really felt that
their gameplan was a good matchup for us. There are two things we do
well, defend and rebound, and we felt coming in our strengths were their
Kampe elaborated that their strong defense and ability to perform on
the road (only two home games out of nine played so far for Oakland) was
"When you look at our stats, our defensive field goal percentage is
40," Kampe said. "Look at all the teams we have played, and that's
pretty strong, so we knew that that was going to be the key to our game.
If we could defend the jumpshot -- we knew we could rebound -we thought
we could win the game."
For roughly 23 minutes, the Golden Grizzlies did just that -- defend the jumpshot.
Then came an 18-0 run, and the Illini would cruise from there.
It wasn't a victory that looks all that impressive right now, but
Oakland will be an NCAA tournament team, and perhaps a threat to win a
first round game.
The game not only builds character and gives Oakland that big-game
feel, it hopefully reminds the Illini that it can't afford to take games
off, because you never know when a team on the schedule is up to the
challenge of beating you.
Tags: Demetri McCamey, dj richardson, EFFFFFOOOOORRRRT, Illinois, Illinois 2010-2011, Illinois basketball, Illinois Fighting Illini, Keith Benson, mike tisdale, Oakland, Oakland Golden Grizzlies, Oakland is legit, Oakland Keith Benson, Oakland Keith Benson NBA, Oakland legit, Oakland NCAAs, Oakland Summit League Champs, offense