Smile Politely

We’re all friends again

World peace broke out Sunday evening in Champaign.

Meyers Leonard celebrated his benching with a double-double. University President Michael Hogan embraced Chancellor Phyllis Wise. Tyler Griffey offered his hand to fallen Hawkeye Devyn Marble. mccolley & Toranut97 bonded over the ordination of women. Jay Price sported a rainbow tie to signal his support for Tracy Nectoux’s column. And to top it all off, Bruce Weber named this Illini team the greatest bunch of kids he’s ever coached … here, at Illinois.

“Great kids,” he said. “Character.”

Okay, it was actually Jay’s daughter Katherine who chose the tie.

Wolverine fans consider it a good year when Michigan’s football team goes winless before beating Ohio State in the season finale.

We’re like that with Iowa. Hence the lovefest. Dogs and cats living together.

To beat my own personal dead horse, Illinois played its best basketball during the awful 9-of-10 losing steak. Coach Bruce Weber juggled his line-up based on match-ups and performance, rather than adhering to a hidebound five. Straight motion gave way to simple sets, and often just isolations triggered by ball screens. A Weber team played zone defense.

But Illinois lost, despite Bruce Weber’s dalliance with ideas.

After the Iowa game, Weber claimed he got back to basics and “what we are.” That’s nonsense. “What we are” is a team that couldn’t find seven feet of outstretched Meyers Leonard, even with the assistance of 10,000 screaming people. Even if it meant a losing season. Even if an entire staff lost its job.

Sunday, Illinois found Meyers Leonard. It’s that simple.

On this day, the post feed appeared effortless.

Tracy Abrams and Sam Maniscalco fed the beast seven times. Brandon Paul made effective entry passes (although only one pass culminated in a statistical assist).

The offense was not gorgeous to behold. Both teams threw the ball away, frequently. Neither shot well.

Iowa needed 20 minutes to figure out that freeing Matt Gatens is but one of many strategies. Yeah, he got his buckets. But his team was down by eleven at the break.

Freshman doofus Aaron White perpetuated the Gatens fixation by missing every break-away lay-up his team could outlet. (Roy Jr.) Devyn Marble bounced the ball off other people’s feet.

Running an offense through Gatens is not a ridiculous idea, considering his recent, incredible scoring/shooting streak. Evidently, information regarding that streak made its way into the Illini scouting report: DJ Richardson wrapped himself around Gatens and refused to let go.

Not feeling the love, Matt pushed DJ away. Sometimes his teammates grabbed DJ, and held him. But DJ fought through.

Gatens scored all but one of his buckets in the first period. There’s a reason. After suffering too many holds, pushes and moving screens, DJ exploded at referee Bert Smith.

It worked.

Smith trained his eyes on the match-up. Things got worse for Matt Gatens. Eventually, at 9:53 of the second period, referee Mike Eades whistled Iowa for an illegal screen. The Assembly Hall orgasmed. (Let’s face it, Illini fans have been pent up lately.)

Considering all the energy he invested on D, it’s hard to blame DJ for a poor shooting night. 2-of-8 from distance is, frankly, better than the team’s average of late. But because most fans and observers focus on offensive stats, let me just tell you that WOW did DJ spend a lot of time punching, kicking, wrestling various Iowa screeners.

The other reason I relate this story: Brandon Paul got the credit for shutting Gatens down in the second half. Brandon shadowed Gatens on various first-half possessions, too. So did Joe Bertrand.

I want to credit DJ because his relentless fighting wore the Hawkeyes down.

As with Meyers during many of his “bad” games, the camera and the box score will never tell you what happened. I assume DJ will feel it in his ribs this morning.

When you won, it feels good.

Recruits at Sunday’s game included Pekin’s Nathan Taphorn and Peoria Richwoods’ Ashton Winfrey. Illini signee Michael Orris came too. His Crete-Monee squad opens regional playoffs Tuesday night.

Also in attendance, but needing no recruiting pitch: Pastor Donna Smith looked after the Weber family at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Champaign. That’s why she’s so passionate about them on the interwebs, posting as Toranut97. (Ed. note: photo removed at the request of Pastor Smith)


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