Smile Politely

Believe it or not, Illini take Northwestern

Northwestern played great. It was a pleasure to watch. They had energy. They were excited. They played as a team.

They should have won. And if you turned off the teevee, disgusted, you probably woke up believing they did win.

They lost.

I can explain why they lost: they stopped doing what they’d been doing.

By reputation, Lou Henson had the tendency, back before the shot clock, of sitting on a lead. “Letting the air out of the ball” was the common parlance. That’s when your team chooses to fight a different opponent (time) down the stretch.

By the time the Flying Illini came to national prominence, Henson had taken heed of that criticism. That 1989 Final Four team didn’t play stall ball. Last night, Northwestern milked the clock, and it cost them.

But it wasn’t just hesitancy that lost them the game. There’s another way of explaining the inexplicable 15 point comeback.

With about five minutes to go in a losing effort verging on blowout, Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain, watching his team slouch toward oblivion, insisted to head coach Bruce Weber that Illinois implement a jerry-built full court press.

It worked. The Illini went on a 17–2 run, and with just under three seconds to play, took their first, only, and decisive lead.

Weber gave McClain all the credit for Illinois’ win. He also credited Bill Carmody for his game preparation, and added that by rights, Carmody’s team should have won.

This is the second time in a month that Carmody has watched his ‘Cats lead for 39:57 out of 40:00 minutes over a ranked opponent, only to lose in the last three seconds. That sucks.

Trent Meacham played the two best minutes of his career, just when it mattered. His defense of Michael Thompson, with under 30 seconds to play, was the decisive play of the game.

Yes, Meacham also hit the three to bring Illinois within three. He hit the two to bring them within one. He dished the winning assist. But it was that defensive play that won the game.


Lots of bad calls by the officials. In some cases, maybe things were too fast to follow. But some were just bad. The traveling call on Frazier. The traveling no-call on Coble. The off-Jeremy Nash out of bounds play, called as if the ball last touched Frazier.

Mike Davis “didn’t look” for the ball on Illinois’ last possession. That’s what Weber said. But I noticed throughout the game, sitting about 36 inches from the baseline, that Demetri McCamey frequently looked for Davis in the low post, only to find Davis looking somewhere else.

With a minute and a half to go, down by six, Illinois was running clock. I guess I can’t argue with this strategy. They won.

Northwestern freshman Luka Mirkovic will be playing on Sundays. He has skills, and height. There’s another thing about him. By the time he earns his first paycheck, he will be bald.

The other benefit of Wayne McClain’s press, apart from Confuse-a-‘Cat : Northwestern had to use all its timeouts. They sure could have used one with about 2.9 seconds to go, with 94 feet and one basket between them and a thrilling victory.

Bill Carmody is a fantastic coach. I hope he gets a magic season before he hangs it up.


Don’t laugh. Odds are one of these losers will be your proctologist someday.

Practically the entire crowd Looked Good in Orange.

A Purple Haze enveloped the Illini every time they attempted a free throw. They finished 2 for 12 from the line.

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