Illinois Dismantles Gonzaga


My weekend trip to Kansas City started out on Wednesday with a five hour drive from the North Suburbs to the Iowa border while I listed to Brian Barnhart and Stephen Bardo on the Illini Radio Network. The Oakland Golden Grizzlies played their patented 1-3-1 zone against the Illini all night, and the Illini had less problems dismantling that than fans did in getting to Champaign thanks to Wednesday evening's snow storm.

Unfortunately, I was not able to see the Oakland game on TV. I realized after the fact that a local cable channel in Kansas City (Metro Sports) was showing the game in repeat on Friday afternoon. Of course, I was watching football and other basketball not thinking the Illinois game would be rebroadcast. I did discover that Saturday at noon the channel would be replaying the game. Yes, the same time as the Gonzaga game. So, I was able to catch a few minutes of the Oakland / Illinois game during commercials and halftime of the Illinois / Gonzaga game. My quick impressions: Illinois did just what it needed to do to beat Oakland, and I was pretty surprised they were able to pick apart the zone like they did.

Now, onto Saturday's game. As I drove back to Chicago this afternoon, I kept seeing the first half of this game repeat in my head as I laughed while Murray State was keeping it close with Missouri. (The Tiger eventually beat the Racers by four in the newly named Mizzou Arena). When it comes to a way to describe what happened on Saturday against Gonzaga, only two words: beat down.

The Illini dominated both ends of the court for the first twenty eight minutes of the game leading to a 77-39 lead. From that point on the game turned into complete garbage time as Gonzaga clawed their way back into giving the game a respectable final outcome of 89-72. Anyone who watched the game knew the final score was not an indicator of how close the game was. Illinois was in complete control of the game from pretty much the opening tip until Bruce Weber called off the dogs with twelve minutes left in the contest.

The most impressive thing about the game against Gonzaga was that Illinois simply out classes the Bulldogs on both sides of the court. Gonzaga could not stop Illinois, and they could not do anything to score against the Illini until the game was already well in hand.

Offensive Efficiency: 128.02
Defensive Efficiency: 103.33
Points per Possession (Offensive): 1.28
Points per Possession (Defensive): 1.03

These numbers do not indicate how well the Illini played in the first twenty eight minutes of Saturday afternoon's game. In the final twelve minutes, the Illini were outscored 33-12 by Gonzaga. The game was already in hand by that point, and Bruce Weber was resting his starters and playing at times a back court of Rich McBride and Warren Carter. I think it would be safe to say that if Warren Carter is your shooting guard and Rich McBride is your point guard, you should not be expected to score that many points.

The question heading into the game was how Illinois was going to defend Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf. They answered that question quickly by double or triple teaming him any time he got the basketball. All of the Illini players around Ronny frustrated him into six turnovers as he either had the ball stripped from him by a guard dropping, or he made an errant pass across the court. The way the Illini big men and guards worked with the defensive rotation is a great sign for the future. Expect this double teaming of the post to happen when Illinois is facing a post player that can be dominant, and it will only be successful if the weak side guards rotate on the back side as well as they did on Saturday. The Illini guards were opportunistic on Turiaf's weak passes out of the double teams and turned most of his six turnovers into Illini fast break points.

Offensively, the Illini dismantled whatever defense Mark Few threw at them without hesitation. The Zags started out in man-to-man defense, and the Illini ate it up. Then, they switched to zone, and the Illini proceeded to shoot them right out of it. Then, they switched to a press, and the Illini broke it with ease. There was nothing Few could throw out on the court on Saturday afternoon that Illinois did not handle with ease.

Coming on Monday evening / Tuesday morning.

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