Tuesday, January 31, 2006
What a great performance by the ILLINI tonight in Madison against a very scrappy (and favored) Badger squad. I know we came into the showdown at #6 in the country, but the Badgers were the vegas favorite given the BIG-10 strength at home. 40 minutes later, 66-51 was your final, but it was a closely contested affair for most of the way. At one point, ILLINOIS trailed by 11 points (24-13) in the first half before the defense kicked-in and sparked the rally which never really ended. Great 3-point shooting from Smith and McBride didn't hurt either (especially the timely daggers from deep outside). We are the only team in the BIG-10 to beat the Badgers at home in conference play over the past 5 seasons (and have now done it two years in a row under Bruce Weber).
McBride, Randle, and Smith were amazing tonight. While James struggled from the floor in foul trouble much of the way, these three really stepped-up big in the scoring column with over 34 points between them. This was the signature BIG-10 road-win I've been waiting for all season after early losses at Indiana and at Iowa.
Illinois is now 59 for their last 62 games. They are 1 of only 2 teams to win on the road in the BIG -10 this year amongst the top-5 teams (Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois). Sparty beat Ohio State in Columbus in 2x-overtime a few weeks ago. The BIG-10 is a combined 74-5 this year at home against opposition, including intself. When you look at this conference against the other 5 'power conferences', we have the highest winning percentage of the BIG-6 at over 60%. I think the ACC is 2nd right around 55% with the BIG EAST in 3rd at 50%.
Illinois now improves to 20-2 on the season (and could easily be 21-1) and should move up in the rankings next week when they come out. We get Penn State at the Hall on Saturday before an extended break leading up to the next road game against the BUCKEYES. But for now, we savor the victory in Madison atop the BIG-10 standings with Iowa of all teams.
I told you the loss in Bloomington to Indiana was a good loss for us. We'll be favord to win the remaining games on our schedule with the possible excpetion of the season finale in East Lansing against Sparty. But tonight was a coming out night for Randle and Pruitt. I knew something special was brewing. Last weekend McBride stepped-up and out against Purdue. Tonight, Jamar Smith came out along with McBride and Randle. This is shaping up to be another special ILLINI squad under Coach Bruce; who might just be having a better coaching season than last year. I like our chances this year especially when you consider that there are no dominant teams like Carolina of 2004/5. This just in, Lunardi (ESPN Bracketology) has us as a #1 seed after tonight's win: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology
Oskee Wa Wa! Hail to the Chief!