With Deron Williams out with a broken jaw, it was time for a guard to step up and make the necessary contributions to lead the Illini to victory. Many people thought that person would be Luther Head. Head's stats for the game are painful to look at, almost like Williams jaw. Head shot 0 for 7 from the floor and 6 of 9 from the free throw line. Combine that with 4 turnovers and no assists, Coach Bruce Weber didn't get what he had hoped from his junior high flying guard. "Luther needs to slow down, he's like a jack rabbit out there," Weber said. "He's shooting the ball before he even catches it."
Enter Richard McBride. The sweet shooting freshman from Springfield Lamphier finally got the minutes he needed to show the Illini faithful his array of skills. McBride scored a game high 22 points and gave the Illini the much needed scoring punch they lacked without Williams. But McBride didn't just do it by knocking down 3's. Rich ended the game shooting 7 for 13 from the floor including six 3-pointers, he was 2 of 3 from the charity stripe, had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 0 turnovers. Combine that with playing lockdown defense and you're watching a star in the making.
"He probably played the best game for a freshman that I remember since I've been here," said junior Nick Smith. "That was a performance."
The beneficiary of lots of those assists was a fired up James Augustine. Augustine posted 21 points and rebounds and gave the Illini the necessary inside-out combo they've been longing for all year. With McBride spreading the defense out and making them honest by burying 3's, Augustine broke free for countless lobs and lay-ups and was a terror for Memphis to guard.
Memphis coach John Calipari was not happy with the way his Tigers played. "We were selfish today," Calipari said. "I have no idea why we played this way."
He also praised McBride for his superb effort but acted surprised by the freshman's output. "I bet you can guess who we didn't scout or prepare for," Calipari said. "Here's a guy that hasn't made a 3-pointer all year and he comes in and hit 6 of them on us today."
Calipari knew that the Illini would come out with a purpose following the loss to Providence and then the crucial injury to Williams. "Now you know everybody's laying there saying, 'Somebody's got to step up.' Then you're going to get hurt by somebody you have no idea you'd get hurt by, and that kid's name was McBride," Calipari said.
"The kid did great today." It's not as if the Illini played a great game however. Dee Brown continues to be in a shooting funk and the Illini are still horrible at the free throw line shooting 53% for the game. The Illini at one point were down 19-9 on their home floor, something the crowd was not used to seeing. The Illini fought back thanks to McBride's hot shooting and Memphis going ice cold for a long stretch. McBride's buzzer beater 3 before halftime set the tone for the second half. The Illini came out charged up for the second half.
The movement on offense was great and they even threw in some hi-low plays to keep Augustine's appetite fed. The crowd sensed that Illinois was going to pull away and they rose to their feet to energize their team. Calipari wrapped things up with a concern for his team and a compliment to the fans of Illinois.
"You can't play college basketball that way, you can't play a pickup game or play at the YMCA that way, and you certainly can't come to Champaign, IL where they have a record of 54-2 and win a ballgame."
ILLINI GRADE REPORT:
Backcourt- Assistant Coach Wayne McLain told Weber he thought that was possibly the best game Dee has played in his career. I'll respectfully disagree but Dee did do lots of other things to hurt Memphis. He had 7 rebounds and 7 assists and didn't seem to mind that he wasn't the focal point on offense. Luther Head really struggled but it didn't matter as Richard McBride stole the show.
Frontcourt- James Augustine was simply awesome again tonight and nearly posted another double double. Coach Calipari called Roger Powell "the glue" to this team as he did all the necessary dirty work. Nick Smith had a breakout game with 7 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds. Smith was a difference maker in this game. Brian Randle only had 5 points but he did lots of things well as he racked up 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Randle is slowly emerging as a star for the Illini.
Bench- The bench was incredible tonight since McBride led the game in scoring and Nick Smith did everything well. The Illini only went 8 deep and Jack Ingram only got 5 minutes of playing time. It looks as if Coach Weber is trimming his bench minutes down and figuring out what combinations are working the best.
I actually witnessed Nick Smith smile and enjoy himself for the first time this year.
McBride's six 3's were a career high and most for an Illini since Sean Harrington hit six against Minnesota on 1/7/03. - It will be interesting to see if McBride starts next game. If he continues to play well Coach Weber will have to play a 3 guard lineup when Deron Williams returns. Look for it to be Williams, Brown, McBride, Powell, and Augustine with Randle on the verge of cracking the lineup. - Coach Weber thought that if the guys would have made their free throws they could have won by 20.
Coach Calipari could have easily seen his team break Illinois home winning streak had they closed out the 1st half. Memphis easily could have won this game by about 20 if they had pulled away when they led big.
There is a chance Illinois is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation right now.
Deron Williams loosened up his team before the game by writing on the board CALL OUT SCREENS!!
Richard McBride plays defense on Antonio