"I thought it was a typical Big Ten Game against Wisconsin,"
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said after the game. "You have to have
the right mindset and understand your opponent and understand they are
going to keep playing and they don't get rattled. We'd go on a run and
they would calmly walk to the huddle. They come out, they make
plays...You're not going to put a Bo Ryan team away."
That was how Weber succinctly wrapped up the Illini's
69-61 win against the Badgers on Sunday night in front of a
sometimes-lackluster sell out crowd at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Though the Illini at times dominated the game, it was their inability
to put their opponents away that again dominated the thoughts of many
after the game -- even if Weber would like to say that it was the talent
and poise of the Badgers that allowed that to happen.
By Paul Schmidt
It is always an adventure for the Illini against Wisconsin and their
"Swing" offense, but they were really in full effect on Sunday night,
launching up an uncharacteristic 35-three pointers and only sinking 10
of them, but still showing good patience with the basketball as well as
taking care of it (the Badgers only turned it over an absurd 3 times).
However, there were a couple of things to take away from the post-game presser, and those came courtesy of Bruce Weber.
If it looked as though the Illini were getting to the hole more in
the game, and specifically Demetri McCamey, that's because they were.
It seemed like they were all able to get by any of the Badgers
defenders, but Bruce had a great story as to why McCamey in particular
was looking for the drive.
"He came back from Christmas, and he announced to the team that he's
got to get to the basket and the free throw line more, that someone at
Christmas dinner had told him that," Weber said.
"Well, I've been telling him that for three years, three and a half
years, you guys have been telling him, the fans have been telling him,
and someone at Christmas dinner finally got to him."
After the laughter in the room subsided, Bruce added a fairly salient point.
"If he starts doing that, it will definitely help us, there's no
doubt about that," Weber added. "We actually got more free throws than
they did, so that's a positive."
As for keeping the boot on the throat of your opponents, Weber has a theory on that one too.
"You're not going to have success against Wisconsin unless you move
the basketball, and I thought the only time we struggled was when we
kind of stood around when we got the lead," Weber said. "We just don't
do a good job of continuing attacking with smartness. Hopefully that's
something we can learn as we go on."
The most revealing quotes from Weber came from being able to keep the
team motivated and moving forward, and presented, surprisingly, a
reversal from last year's team.
"I learned something myself, and it's that I can't let up on these
guys," Weber said. "I have to throw chairs, I have to yell at them, and
do stupid stuff. I don't hate that, but...I learned you can't be nice to
them. You guys can tell me that I'm not nice to Demetri, but you can't
be. He just doesn't deal with it very well.
"I think our whole team, I think they think we arrived after Gonzaga,
and they didn't want to listen," Weber continued. "I was just hoping
that it would pass, but it didn't pass -- It got worse. Then I think,
obviously, there was a disturbing loss and then a hard loss, and they
just started listening better. And I learned something too on just how
you have too deal with this team...you just learn about your guys."
Candid and interesting quotes from Weber on the team, for certain,
but it brings together the larger issue that the Illini continue to be a
team that has trouble not only self-motivating, but keeping their heads
in the game. The squad has "Champagne wishes and Caviar dreams," to
quote Robin Leach, but can't allow themselves to get confident because
they easily get too OVER-confident.
It's a strange combination that the Illini -- And Bruce Weber -- will have to manage throughout the Big Ten season.