Smile Politely

Jet Lag

At 18:01 of the first half, John Groce stormed out on the court. He’d already seen enough. Like the rest of us, he probably didn’t enjoy the other 37:58 either.

There’s a reason.

A viewing of the game and a survey of those who traveled to Hawaii revealed similar results. Everyone was dead tired, or completely out of whack.

Mark Morris, Director of Basketball Operations: “I’m drained. I don’t know how they did it.”
Gary LaTulip: “This is the first day I feel sort of normal, and it’s my third day back.”
Allison Groce: “I can’t get back on schedule.”
Paris Parham, Jr.: “I still can’t get to sleep until 4 a.m.”
Joe Bertrand: “Ha ha ha!” (He sleeps a lot.)

In March 2013, we may look back at Gardner-Webb as the most important game of the year. Odd as it sounds, it might also be the best Illini game of the year. But let’s hope we never have to watch it again.

Yes, Illinois very nearly lost to a team from a hyphenated school you know only from recent box scores. Gardner-Webb entered your consciousness slightly before Lipscomb, and after Savannah State. You know it’s true. I know it’s true.

I even had a (friendly) debate with Scout-Fox’s Taylor Rooks (who is equal parts scout and fox) about where Gardner-Webb is located. We weren’t sure. And this was far after the final buzzer.

Chris Holtmann is the latest in a short series of visiting coaches I’ve really liked and admired, almost immediately. His team completely outplayed our team. He got inside (his very good friend) John Groce’s brain and read every move. Gardner-Webb led the entire game. Illinois, your Maui Champions, played catch-up.

On various possessions, the G-W bench lofted a dry-erase board bearing one capitalized word. “ROUER!” It means “thrash” in French. Gardner-Webb rarely thrashed Illinois on offense. They ran some inexplicably obvious sets to position an open jump-shooter. And so also did Illinois, to them. It’s as if the two head coaches were reading from the same playbook.

Oh wait …

They were?

Well, shit. No wonder.

In fact, as both coaches and Tyler Griffey pointed out, each team’s final basket resulted from the same play, a quarterback option. It worked both times. The ball-handler drew the defense and pitched to his wingman. It’s also a play that Bruce Weber called a lot in these situations. Go figure.

Mostly G-W bollocksed and gumshoed the Illini on the other end of the court. Playing the same type of zone-but-let’s not-call-it-zone John Groce professes. Sometimes it was a bit more traditionally zone and less trapezoid-and-1. The Webb confounded Illinois’ offense by presenting the perfect amount of hassle to Illinois’ fatigue. We were Chauncey Gardner. They were Spud Webb.

It was outstanding.

“You can’t fool the players; they know,” John Groce said in the postgame presser. I’m not sure what that means.

On the other hand, I do know what “flow!” means, and that’s what Groce yelled at one point, near the bitter end. “Flow!” means “motion!” So go figure that, too.

The result was the same for Groce as for Weber. Nothing good happened. On its third and fourth-to-last possessions, Illinois had no plan and looked stupid.

In the end, they got it right. They spread the floor for a Brandon Paul isolation. The first time, he drove and calmly laid in the go-ahead bucket. The last time, he dished for the winning shot. The crowd EXPLODED. It was like a sonic boom.

So anyway, we won.

Abe Djimde’s year-old niece stopped crying. Mayor Don Gerard grinned and bore it. Israel may even have momentarily ceased bombing Gaza.

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