The long bench returned against Presbyterian. Everyone played, and everyone scored — excluding the injured Joseph Bertrand.
The game encapsulated everything you need to know about the importance of diversity in the Illini rotation:
IN THE MIDDLE
Mike Tisdale's weaknesses were exploited, and then corrected with the insertion of Dominique Keller at the five spot. Richard Semrau had another strong game, not missing a shot and adding strength and interior passing at the low post. Tyler Griffey collected junk baskets by combining nifty footwork with upper body agility which, frankly, doesn't exist in most irregularly-sized humans.
Lesson learned: When Tisdale's assets become liabilities, Illinois has options.
FROM THE ARCH
SuperBrandon came as Clark Kent. He launched a pair of dying quail rimward. Neither ball was ever in danger of finding the bottom. And so DJ Richardson took over in the role of freshman sharpshooter. He hit bottoms on four of his six attempts from three. He even drained one shot while being tackled.
Lesson learned: We have options from outside.
The kryptonite behind SuperBrandon's faulty shot did not affect his ability to fly.
THE DELICATE ART OF WINGS
Alex Legion and Bill Cole displayed their gifts on Saturday. The crowd and the media reacted to Legion's performance, because there's been so much speculation about Alex. That Alex is quiet, reserved, even cerebral perpetuates his Delphian legend: Alex is the Yeti, seldom seen but surely magnificent. Right?
Well, as with big footprints in the snow, there's a simpler explanation for Alex's inscrutability. See below.
Cole is the real enigma of the Illini team. I almost never write about him. When I do write about him, it's probably to say that he has a weird shot.
One reason his name rarely comes up: Cole is one of the most relaxed guys on a team of mellow men. But this week, he played out of character. Or maybe it's his new character. I might be forced to write about him if he keeps it up.
Cole silenced, or at least perplexed his critics with a heady, intensely involved effort during the vital stretch of a too-close contest with Northern Illinois. Afterward, Bruce Weber nearly foamed at the mouth in praising Cole's performance.
Intrepid reporter asks the hard questions.
I talked to Bill about it. A particularly amusing moment occurs when he confesses his flopping skills are not yet honed to the level of, say, Brandon Paul.
Cole followed that performance with another intense burst. He played 16 minutes against Presbyterian, pulling in 6 rebounds and long-arming one Blue Hose shot attempt down the gullet whence it came.
This time, Bill attempted shots of his own. He hit 2 of 6. The rainbow three that found the net bottom was gorgeous. The other one died quietly off the rim's far side. According to an insider expert, there's a good (or bad) reason for Cole's shot to seem sometimes gorgeous, sometimes humpbacked.
Gary Nottingham (left) says Cole's shot takes that occasional right turn (he referred to it as "the spinning globe") because Bill's right hand lapses inward. When Cole employs textbook mechanics, he scores.
Legion suffers mechanical problems, too. His natural shot is a line-drive. Nottingham says height and arch increase the liklihood of a shot's finding its mark. "You can drop two basketballs directly through a hoop from above," Nottingham says. "It's the only way to get two balls through a hoop at the same time."
Alex works on correcting the geometry, but it's hard to change muscle mechanics. "If you're not willing to spend hours in the gym, by the time you reach this level, it's nearly impossible," said Nottingham. He added that the staff managed a complete overhaul of Chester Frazier's shot mechanics, and it only took four years. "He hit 36% of his threes as a senior."
THE HEALING POWER OF SLEEP
DJ is other guy whose shot recently seemed a little off. The team's other Peorian still feels soreness in his right elbow. I asked him Friday whether it's worse in the morning, and he lamented that he has to learn to not sleep on that arm. (That's how hard it is being a Division I athlete. You must remain mindful of your game even when you're unconscious.)
I asked him after Saturday's game which side he'd slept on the previous night. He rubbed his belly and smiled.
Someone asked about the lettering on the Illini socks: It's not haiku, just a stripe and a dash.
OT — GREATEST SONG EVER
In the last minute Friday's SportsTalk, Loren Tate revealed to Steve Kelly his opinion that "Hotel California" is the best song ever. Ooh, it makes me wonder... what songs has Loren Tate been missing all these years? The cat is "well seasoned" as Kelly phrased it.
I say we put our heads together and make Mr. Tate a mixtape. If he's into 70s rock, "Dream On" and "Stairway" seem like logical places to start. Maybe one of Bread's greatest hits, and even Eric Carmen. He may be too establishment to fully appreciate The Clash.
What are your suggestions, dear reader?