This may be the worst game Illinois will play this season, if they’re lucky. Hawaii dominated the rebounds 43 to 14, and yet Illinois won 68–58.
From the outset, Hawaii was in charge. On its first play from scrimmage, Illinois went to Mike Tisdale inside. He was tackled for a loss. On the next possession, Chester Frazier ran up the middle, only to get lost in the trees. On the third possession, Tisdale banged an incomplete shovel pass off the backboard, which is made of reinforced glass.
Meanwhile, at the defensive end, Tisdale picked up an early foul while altering a made Hawaii field goal not at all: three-point play. It’s not that Mike Tisdale is inconsistent from one outing to the next. It’s that the opponents keep changing. Sometimes he’s expected to match-up with shorter, faster guys. Other times, he’s expected to match-up with shorter, much faster guys. In this case, Petras Balocka was much faster. And before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” you could much more readily say, “Petras Balocka is your daddy.”
Petras Balocka pulls down a rebound while Illinois players think “Hey,
that’s a good idea.”
But Tisdale’s performance Saturday against Georgia was not what you might call “good,” apart from his 14 points. Then again, you’d only call it “bad” if you were making the mistake of defining Mike Tisdale as an interior player. Tisdale’s performance against Hawaii grades an “incomplete.” He played only 10 minutes. There simply wasn’t a match-up in which his skill set could be useful to the team.
Demetri McCamey also played like shit from the get go. Unlike Tisdale, his skill set matched up very well with the ‘Bows. It’s just that he wasn’t using any of his skills at first.
ACTING! (Genius.) Early in the game, McCamey got called for charging, seemingly beheading a Rainbow Warrior in one of the great non-contact bits of Kabuki seen on the Assembly Hall stage. Not sulking, and not wanting to make the same mistake twice, McCamey drove to the bucket on the next possession. Hawaii forward Bill Amis pinned McCamey’s finger-roll to the backboard.
Between the two of them, McCamey and Tisdale had gotten the Illini off to their slowest start since … there’s probably a statistic for this somewhere. Point is, McCamey was just as hapless on the offensive end, but Tisdale got pushed around at either end. At 16:28, Bruce Weber had seen enough. Tisdale gave way to Richard Semrau. The Illini had not scored. Referee Steve Welmer tugged at his pants, adjusting his belt.
Richard Semrau does something while Steve Welmer’s belt holds up his pants.
Immediately upon Semrau’s entry, Frazier hit a three and Illinois forced a turnover. You might not think that a Semrau-for-Tisdale substitution would affect a Frazier trey. But much of the Illini motion offense has to do with movement away from the ball. Screens, pops and whatnot. In any case, you can’t argue with results. Well, okay you can argue with results. And now that we have the interweb, you can argue with results for hours, with all the other guys who like to dress up in their wives’ unmentionables.
Weber kept Semrau in the game.
At this point, recognizing player substitutions, Hawaii coach Bob Nash called for a 2–3 zone. It fooled no one. The scouting report on Illinois may still hold that the Illini can’t stomach a zone, but that’s outdated. The Illini can’t stomach the 1–3–1. (Shh, don’t tell anybody.)
Tisdale returned at the under–12 timeout accompanied by Dominique Keller. At this point, the Illini were losing the battle of the boards 10-2. Tisdale is not the solution to a rebounding problem. Keller is a rebounder, but not yet versed in the art of positioning vis-à-vis Bruce Weber’s offensive and defensive sets (or rather “motions”).
Despite the substitutions, Illinois continued to get pounded on the glass. Steve Welmer adjusted his belt.
And then came the spark: Jeff Jordan. With 11:42 remaining in the first half, with the Illini trailing an inferior team 13-9 at home, in December, Jeff Jordan entered the game and jolted the team to life. Jordan’s defensive intensity is like nothing you’ve seen since … oh, what’s his name … veteran player, receding hairline … came from ACC territory … oh yeah, Chester Frazier.
Chester Frazier swished four threes.
Alex Legion or no Alex Legion, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for Bruce Weber to keep Jordan on the pine. Jordan ignites the team. He gives exactly those things that Weber demands. It’s as if he grew up with a basketball coach in the house.
From Jordan’s entry, the Illini started playing like a team that might have practiced already. They began playing like a team that might want to score more points, and get more defensive stops than the other team. College basketball games are played in four minute segments, with timeouts for teevee and radio commercials every four minutes (in live ball time, not in real time). And for the four minutes after Jordan’s entry, Hawaii could not do anything right.
Although The ‘Bows bigs were glued to the ground, walking like
Egyptians, they still managed to bury the high-rising Illini on the glass.
At the four minute mark, Hawaii had 20 rebounds. Illinois had just five. Nevertheless, because Hawaii couldn’t hold on to the ball, Illinois was padding a small lead. Referee Steve Welmer adjusted his belt.
As the Illini caught and surpassed the ‘i ‘B Ws, it occurred to me that defense really is important. Frazier had the assignment, as usual, for the opponent’s top scorer. But Calvin Brock spent some time with the dynamic Roderick Flemings, too. Flemings spent some time away from Brock, when they were together. But that was not Brock’s intention. It’s just that Flemings was even faster than Brock. Flemings also spent some time away from Frazier, mostly in the air, above him. That’s how good Roderick Flemings is. Frazier and Brock are solid defenders. Flemings exploited either of their weaknesses, freely.
Illini Mike Davis had the Bill Amis assignment for significant stretches of the game. That’s a better footspeed match-up for the Illini. Amis, the Rainbow Warriors’ second best scorer, finished with four points, a season low.
Although the Illinois defense failed miserably on rebounding position, it did well in tiring its opponent. Shortly before halftime, Hawaii players were wheezing like overworked second-world fishmongers. And Petras Balocka was so tired of laying the ball in all the time, he was bent over sideways, gasping for breath, and possibly a duty-free cigarette.
Steve Welmer, who is fat, demanded Balocka and the rest of the Hawaii team stand upright and not sit on comfortable chairs during Illinois’ 20-second timeout. If Welmer can stand during a timeout after running up and down the floor all night with a bunch of kids a third his age, damn it they can too. Besides, it’s the rule (that I’d never noticed before). This may have been the difference in the game.
Following his concise eructation (bark?), Welmer adjusted his belt.
At the under 16, Hawaii’s rebound advantage was 27–8. Turnovers stood at 18–2. Illinois led, and that proves nothing. You can practice rebounding. You cannot practice the other team rubbing its hands in Crisco.
But by this point, we’d learned something that seems to elude even the most learned four-year ranters: Chester Frazier can shoot. When he gets his feet set, when he’s squared-up, he will hit the bottom of the net.
We also knew, by this time, that Lasha Parghalava cannot shoot. The swarthy Georgian repeatedly heaved 22-foot jumpers approximately 21 feet. They died on soft impact with the front of the rim.
The other commie, Balocka, continued his monster game, if quietly. He made few breathtaking moves (apart from his own wheesing for that cigarette). But he asserted himself to the extent of a game-high 21 points.
That won’t tell us anything about future match-ups. At 6-foot-8, Balocka has a wingspan of about four feet. And stubby legs, too. But they moved like pistons when compared to Tisdale’s. With 8:50 remaining in the second half, rebounds stood at 32–9, and turnovers at 21–2. By his point, the fans in orange were cheering for each rebound.
Demetri McCamey launches a three while Hawaii players position themselves for a rebound.
At 7:53, Steve Welmer adjusted his belt, and Lasha Parghavala finally hit a three. It was too late.
But not all was celebratory for Illinois from this point. In fact, quite the opposite. It was here that we could see plainly the weaknesses that Bruce Weber frequently attributes to The ‘Nique. Keller still gets lost. Balocka got behind him for a three-point play with five minutes remaining. A minute later, Balocka lost Keller again. Another foul on Keller. No points came out of it, as Palocka missed the front end of his 1-and-1. But that was Keller’s last taste of action.
With 3:07 to go, Richard Semrau missed the team’s first free throw. Hawaii got the rebound (35–12). Steve Welmer adjusted his belt.
Hawaii cut the lead to 10 with 90 seconds to play, then made absolutely no attempt to win. They didn’t stop the game with fouls, but they stopped the game (calling a timeout) with 15 seonds to play, to have one last chat about how they were going to lose. I don’t use illegal drugs, but I have to think that these last few minutes would appear no more surreal if I’d been smoking LSD.
It’s rare that the interview segment seems more significant than the game. Where dramatic theater, specifically tragedy, is concerned, the real excitement happened in front of microphones and not on live television.
The three Illini in attendance at the post-game press conference — Keller, McCamey and Frazier — were loose. Their coach was not. Because the players precede the coach, and because they are not in the room at the same time, the players have not yet begun to understand the wind-sprints they might face during the off-week Illinois gets after Wednesday’s game.
Basically, the presser featured Frazier and McCamey laughing at Keller’s deadpan humor. But Keller was only kidding for their benefit. When it came to anyone outside the team, Keller laid down the law: Back off all you Chester Frazier critics.
“I don’t really understand why people ask questions like that,” he said in response to a Chicago reporter marveling at Frazier’s four three-pointers, “Chester shoots just as well as anyone from what I see at practice. He was open, he took a shot, he made it. That’s the bottom line.”
Wondering at Frazier and McCamey’s giggles fit, I followed up. Keeping in the spirit of things, I asked whether Chet and Meetri thought The Nique should pursue a career in basketball, or comedy. And that’s when Keller came to his most earnest advocacy of Chester Frazier:
“When people say it like that … I guess Chester struggled shooting last year. But he’s the leader of our team. He’s an inspiration. I don’t like it when people come at him like that. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have won half the games we won.
“If he’s open, he’ll shoot and he’ll make it. I have all the confidence in the world he will.”
I agree. Chester Frazier can shoot. He first showed it against Jackson State a couple years ago. We’ve had flashes ever since then. But mostly, he has not shot the ball. And the word on the street is “leave him open.”
That’s fine. Chester Frazier is Steve Bardo when it comes to shooting. He’ll hit for a better-than-average percentage, and he’ll need a few seconds to square up. So he won’t do it unless the situation presents itself. Also like Bardo, Chester is smarter than you are. So quit questioning him.
Frazier and Keller notched 14 points apiece. McCamey had 11 assists, a career high.
The final turnover count was 22 to 5. Otherwise, Illinois loses.
Illinois had 14 rebounds, and Assembly Hall-record low. The last time Illinois got smoked so badly on the boards, Joe B. Hall’s Kentucky Wildcats left the Assembly Hall with a squeaker Christmas Eve victory. But unlike Hawaii, the ‘Cats had twin towers Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin inhaling all loose balls within a ten foot radius of the basket. Don’t be alarmed at your failure to recognize these names. Either you weren’t born yet, or your memory is completely gone.
The Orange Krush forced a number of “last second” shots tonight. They fake out the other team by counting down the shot clock, but just a few seconds early. It’s worked more often this year than before, probably because the young people these days are just a bunch of (fill in your preferred crotchety old-timer jargon). But against Hawaii, the chant resulted in a whole lot of offensive efficiency for the ‘Bows. Sometimes it was a made desperation jumper. Others, an Illini fouled dumbly on a forced shot.
Dominique Keller knows how to mind a shot clock. This circus shot
counted for three points.
When sophomore wing Bill Cole entered the game, he immediately got lost on defense and was lucky to collect the rebound on the blown lay-up. Later, he threw a knuckleball from the arc which came within mere inches of scoring. Come to the Chicago State game if you hope to see him play again this year.
LOOKS GOOD IN ORANGE
Andrea Roth barely had time to smile before she was compelled to return to Visitor Taunting Duties. Smile Politely will track her down and insist that she divulge the provenance of these magnificent overalls.
COMING UP: THE CHICAGO STATE COUGARS
The last time I saw Chicago State at the Hall, they spotted the Illini a 20-point lead. They have never been good. But they feature the nation’s second-leading scorer.