Northwestern Game Worth Another Look

When you use a stirring comeback to win an important road game in the rugged Big 10, it is hard to put it behind you. Illini coaches, players and fans are still bubbling over about how Illinois rose from the depths for their first come-from-behind victory of a memorable season at Northwestern Thursday night.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber says it will be hard for his Illini to come back down to earth, get their rest, and be ready for another important road game Sunday.

"The whole way home, usually they are pretty quiet and go to sleep. You're talking about 1:30-2:00 in the morning. But they were hyped up. Talking, jabbering the whole way back. We made them get up for class. They have to text me in the mornings. I don't know how easy it was for them, but it was tough for me. I had about 3 hours sleep at most.

"We're not gonna get a whole lot out of them today (Friday). But we've got to get their concentration back. The whole key is what we do with this win mentally. We can use it as a springboard for a great finish.

"Or, if we become casual and say we won, we're good...obviously, we weren't good for 36 minutes of the game. We had some little spurts but didn't play a great game. We have to have a good mental framework for the game at Bloomington."

A big win helps to disguise the problems that led to the deficit in the game. But Illinois was outplayed most of the way.

"Our Matto chart was not very good until the end. They definitely out toughed us, outplayed us early. They knocked us over on the first few possessions. The only reason we were on the floor was because they took our legs out. That and then backdooring us twice was very disappointing. That shows we weren't mentally ready. The free throws were another indication. I've been trying hard lately to convince them how important mental preparation is."

Weber expanded on what the Illini need to win consistently on the road.

"We have to have a fear factor, not scared, but a fear factor that teams are gonna play at a high level on their home court. You've got to be ready to match that and take their shots. Obviously, we weren't able to early. We did come up with a great deal of energy and froze them down the stretch. That's not gonna happen all the time. Hopefully, we can learn from it."

Media and fans want to know why Illinois doesn't use a full court press more often. Actually, Wayne McClain drew it up during a timeout since the Illini haven't practiced it. Weber thinks it might be good for a few unique circumstances.

"It could give us a different look. With certain units in there, maybe as a change. The problem now is we don't have a lot of practice time to get anything in. We'll talk as a staff. Wayne has always wanted to press. That was the old Peoria Manual pick-them-up, run, jump, trap.

"I just didn't think we had the personnel to really do it, especially this year. When we have certain groups in there, we do have pretty good athletes between Mike Davis, Dominique. Those guys get after it pretty good. But at the same time, you have to realize we caught them when they thought we were gonna foul, they played a little tentative. That definitely helped us."

Weber realizes that Demetri McCamey, the last second hero of the Northwestern game, is making progress in his personal development.

"He's way better than he was a year ago. He still has his days like, 'why are you so lazy, why aren't you working hard?' But I'd say at least 3 out of 4 days he's been at least solid. And out of those 3 solid days, he's probably had one really good day.

"If you compare it with the best, Dee (Brown), Luther (Head) and Deron (Williams), they were good 19 out of 20 days. He's gonna have one bad one here and there, but that's the consistency that will carry over to the games.

"He's made some strides. I was really pleased watching his body language after the shot. He did go up on the ball, I'm not sure why he did that. At least he didn't go crazy. Even after, he was very humble and kept his emotions. I hope it's a good thing for him, and he can carry it over to another good game on Sunday."

Another Illini hero was Trent Meacham, who broke out of a slump the last five minutes of the game.

"The best thing to happen was Trent. In a way, there was no pressure because you're so loose and scrambling. And he was just playing. He played aggressive.

"If you think about both our road wins, at Purdue and this one, he made the big plays down the stretch. He took the ball to the basket, made the pass against Purdue to put us ahead, made the drive before that. He made some big shots.

"He has shot it better the last three games. And then a nice breakout 5 minutes that maybe will give him some confidence this last third of the Big 10."

With 20 wins, the Illini are creeping closer to their goal of 24 wins to insure their participation in the NCAA tournament. Illinois is optimistic, but none of the remaining games are gimmes.

"I hope we can even surpass that (24 wins). But if we can get there, we will feel pretty good about getting into the tournament. Then you're talking maybe about seeding. If you surpass that, maybe you're talking about fighting for a Big 10 Championship, depending on how Michigan State finishes out. That's still a major goal that we have in front of us. It's not gonna be easy. You have no letups at all.


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