Ideally, the Wisconsin fiasco of twenty-thirteen will be remembered for the sea change that followed.
After spotting the Badgers a two touchdown lead, which grew to 27–7, the Illini went on a bit of a run in the final minutes of the first half.
The Grateful Red cheered when, at 2:39, DJ Richardson hit Illinois’ third field goal. They were worn out cheering for their own team. “DOU-ble DI-gits!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
John Groce and his staff will have to watch that half again. It’s their job. Illini Nation can take that anti-trauma drug, and erase it permanently.*
I thought Illinois played some of its best, and most exciting basketball in Madison. They were down by 28 at the time, so maybe no one cares. But then they were down by 18, and people started to care. Ginger people.
Mike Bruesewitz was visibly distraught by the run. He yelled at his teammates. He smelled comeback and epic embarrassment.
That didn’t happen, of course. but Illinois did outscore the Badgers by ten between Sam Dekker’s trey at 16:35 and Joe Bertrand three-point play at 12:26.
The aggressive, attacking offense and full-court press were fun to watch.
After the game, no one involved with Illinois basketball seemed cognizant of that run. John Groce kinda, sorta acknowledged it. So, while the team talks about having a short term memory after losing, this one seemed to stick in their minds.
THE BAD, THE UGLY
“Stop shooting threes!” implored a member of the Illini jazz band (or perhaps someone just behind them in section A) in the waning minutes of the Minnesota debacle.
With the exception of DJ Richardson (ironically, perhaps) no Illini has ever demonstrated the form, the consistency, the percentage to be called a “marksman.” They’re just not that great from the perimeter.
The three-point shot is bad for team energy, too. It’s the shot guys hoist in shootaround. It’s an idle endeavor. (Is that an oxymoron?) When a guy lofts a three-pointer, he becomes a spectator.
Really, when was the last time you saw a guy follow his (three-point) shot? Dribble-penetration begets offense, and it keeps guys active. That’s why we hired John Groce.
Illinois may have seen the light. The days of launching 25 longshots per game may be past. Illinois was 49% from the floor against Minnesota, if you excise their 3-of-24 arc performance.
At Wisconsin, the Illini launched only 14 bombs (12 duds). But they managed 43% from within. DJ was 6-for-8 on two-pointers. Joe Bertrand and Tracy Abrams were 4-of-8, each.
Tyler Griffey was 0-for-shots again, until he stepped inside the ring.
Nah. This is what happens when you give guys tick. Once they acclimate, they perform. The acclimation looks ugly at times. Remember when you first rode a bike? Remember when you first launched a jumpshot in front of 17,000 people?
Yeah, it’s like that.
Once it becomes used to you, anything is workaday. Even performing in public.
THE LONE RECRUIT STRIKES AGAIN
There were probably a number of recruits on hand, actually. But Diamond Stone was the one hanging out with the Wisconsin team after the game. There’s a reason. He’s Ryan Evans’ cousin.
Diamond’s dad Bob grew up in Flint, Michigan. They have basketball there. You may have heard about it.
Bob played at Wisconsin-Whitewater, and the family lives in Milwaukee. He was joined by his boyhood friend Matt, who’s still chums with Illinois & Flint great Craig Tucker.
I think Diamond would fit better in John Groce’s system than Bo Ryan’s. But maybe what he really needs is the Princeton offense. Anyway, I disabused Bob of the idea that Champaign is an eight-hour drive from Milwaukee. So maybe Diamond will get down for a home game.
*There’s actually a pill for this, but bourbon is also good.