Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Nothing like the Busch Braggin' Rights game every year this time. I love the holiday hoops action during the slow part of the bowl season. They've been writing new chapters of this story under the arch in St. Louis for the past 26 years. It's always been a battle between border states and brethren. Families and friends part ways each year, much like the Mississippi River separates the two states. It's the Busch Braggin' Rights afterall. The black & gold versus the orange & blue. The SAAVIS Center is always divided 50/50 by color (w/ 29k spectators in attendance). Throw out the rankings and records. Who cares? This game flat-out just matters! Physical half-court and full-court play are always on display. The BBR is quite simply a war of wills. You likely won't find many better early-season CBB clashes in the nation. No cupcakes here baby. Tonight's edition was no different. The BBR lived up to all of the pre-game expectations. Back and forth. Forth and back. Wooooaaaa, what a game! And like the past six matchups, this one was earned by the good guys in orange and blue (11-2). We needed this one badly after losing two early - season games in a row to national powerhouses (Arizona and Maryland). In so doing, Coach Weber won his 100th game at the U of I.
We got off to a good start in the first 10 minutes before foul trouble and bad basketball choices on both ends of the court cost us the 1st-half lead (38-35 bad guys). At times late in the first and then again early in the second half we lacked leadership, scoring, chemistry, and basketball acumen for long stretches of play. Winning at this level is about shot-selection (taking good ones) given current game conditions (score and time). Point guards need to be field generals, always thinking of how to score next the most efficient way. At times in the game tonight, my squad really struggled with these fundamentals. But, I have to give credit to MIZZOU who really played hard with the pressing full-court 'D'. Wow, that was impressive. Mike Anderson will have you guys ready for the BIG-DANCE come March - mark those words.
Smith, Pruitt, Frazier, and Randle all had big games tonight (all scoring in double-digits). Each also made great plays on defense to help hold the TIGERS in check down the stretch. Warren C. had a good first half before foul trouble dampened his 2nd-half performance. McBride really struggled tonight from the floor, but did make some big plays down the stretch to help his team win with the intangibles. Make no mistake about it, we needed this win tonight - probably more so than MIZZOU did.
Tonight's turning point seemed to come with ~ 10 minutes left on the clock. I think I saw my team come of age tonight during that stretch. My man Chester took the game over in terms of ball control. Shaun Pruitt started to execute down low en route to a career high (19 points), and Smith continued to light it up from downtown (is there a purer shooter in the country?). Keep in mind that key injuries and off - the - court distractions have taken their toll on this team since early November. This is only the 2nd game of the young season where McBride, Frazier, Carter, Pruitt, and Randle have all started. They've come along way in a few short days, but we have a long way to go as we grow into the start of the BIG-10 regular season.
We didn't shoot well from the floor tonight (43%). But we found a way to WIN. We really shot poorly from the charity stripe as well (continuing a bad early-season trend). We still found a way to WIN. But the real key to victory tonight was ball protection, especially by Chester Frazier. We just didn't turn it over against a savage TIGER defense. Next up, Idaho State at home in the HALL Thursday night.