Thursday, March 16, 2006
This wasn't a good victory. Honestly, we should have pulled away by 20 or 25 points against this Air Force team. They don't really have an inside game to speak of. Our perimeter defense was flat-out abismal. Make that atrocious. It just sucked. We had way too many turnovers against a team from the Mounta West (11). Our 3-point shooting wasn't that great either (36% on 8 of 22). Dee is really struggling from the field, and you can see it in his eyes. We also gave up 6 steals tonight. If you want to hang with the big boys like UCONN and DUKE, you gotta protect the ball better than we did tonight.
On the bright side, Jamar Smith really stepped up off the bench with 20 points, most from downtown. Jay Bilas said it best that he can't shoot the ball enough. There isn't such a thing as a bad possession as long as Jamar shoots the rock. He's one of the best pure shooters in the land. The guy knows how to score from the outside, and his inside game isn't that bad either. He knows how to get results....points. Brian Randle also had a great game coming off the bench with 15 points. He made several athletic plays on both sides of the ball. He too can finish strong in the lane. As a team we shot 12-14 from the charity stripe (85%). Not bad, especially for us. For the game we were 57% from the field, but could only hold AF to 50% (not good for us).
Our big strength tonight was down low in the paint in terms of points and rebounds. We won both battles by double digits. The ILLINI had 29 rebounds versus 13 for the Falcons. Another bright spot was our bench scoring (47 points). That bodes well for a deep run in the tourney once our starters get in the groove. Warren Carter had 12 strong points and some solid minutes to boot. Dee and James were very average tonight, at best.
Brown and Augustine only combined for 18 points tonight versus the 27 points during the regular season. Dee did step - up and play on defense. He also had a bunch of rebounds and 9 assists. Can't complain there.
In my final analysis, we were lucky we didn't draw a stronger opponent tonight. At times we looked very mediocre. At teams we looked strong. But, in order to advance deep in this tournament you have to play each game like it's your last. There are no guaranteed wins. It's one and done if you play poorly. The competition is at the highest level this time of year. Any school can beat even the 'best' teams in the land when it comes to March Madnes. But, a win in the tourney is a win in the tourney and we should accept it for that and move on to round #2 against UTAH STATE or WASHINGTON.