Meyers “Miles” Leonard is remarkably lackadaisical. He plays like someone recovering from the flu: he can marshal his resources for a rebound or a big dunk, but mostly he’d just like to go back to bed. Of course, if Illinois had won its past two games, he would probably be called, instead, unflappable. But losing – even by a little – has its consequences, and one of them is this.
I thought Frank Williams, the non plus ultra of Illinois languor, would remain forever unsurpassed in his “I-don’t-give-a-shit-ness.” Sure, there was a brief scare with the arrival of Tyler Griffey — a man custom made to knock ol’ Frank off his seated perch. But Griffey is likable and — contradiction alert — seems to be a genuinely hard worker. He’s just by nature super-chill, like Snoop Dog.
It’s Leonard that has that Williams-junior-year attitude. Bill Self (like many facts involving him at Illinois, this one has been scrubbed) was not good at getting the best from his players. Coach Weber has always seemed dead set against making this same mistake, a fact he mostly demonstrates by yelling. “Get your ass in gear and guard people,” he explained to Leonard early in the game. This worked for a while. Telling Tracy Abrams, shooting a bonus free throw after a made basket, to “finish it, breathe!” did not.
Coach Weber, it should be noted, attends to the referees with equal vigor — presumably to get the best out of them, too. I’m not sure it works as well. Twice in a four minute period near the end of the game he counseled the refs to “check the monitor” for a flagrant foul. This is, at best, an ill-considered strategy. Even if they do find a flagrant foul, if play has resumed (as it had in one instance) there is nothing they can do about it. They’ll simply have it pointed out that they missed a flagrant foul — the very definition of which means it was obvious to see.
At worst, telling refs to check the monitor sounds passive-aggressive. Or, in Weber’s case, aggressive-passive-aggressive. In any event, the referees were entirely satisfactory this game. They let both teams play, which is as much as two defense-minded teams can ask for.
This Illinois squad is good. They are (mostly) hard-working, tough defenders. And while there was no excuse for losing to Penn State, there was a good one against Wisconsin: the Badgers had five different players hit at least one three pointer. Three of their players hit more than one. Their center, Jared Berggren, hit three – this tied the entire Illini output from long range.
Bo Ryan — as curmudgeonly in the post-game presser as he looks like he would be — deadpanned, “I like when you score three on a possession.” Pause. “Because it is sometimes hard to score.”
Yes. Pause. It is. Except when your center shoots 50% from beyond the arc.