On Polls, Taunts And Illinois Success

When a team is winning, there is much to discuss. As Illinois has continued its fine showing this basketball season, the media following the team has remained engaged and interested. Press conferences are long but filled with interesting information. On Tuesday, Bruce Weber discussed last week's wins, the taunting technical, and the polls among other subjects.

Illinois came from behind to squeak by Northwestern, and Bruce Weber felt that game prepared his team for the Indiana game that followed.

"It was a good week for us. On paper, they're games you should win. But at the same time, in this league nothing is for sure, especially this year. And then the way the Northwestern game went down, the frantic finish, I hope was a good confidence builder for us. We used it as a springboard into the Indiana game."

Perhaps the Illini are beginning to understand what it takes to win on the road.

"At Indiana, we had talked about a sense of urgency on the road, especially at the beginning of the game. We have slowly but surely tried to get the guys to understand how hard people play. What Northwestern did to us early, got our attention. They took it to us and played at a very high level. They out toughed us on the Play Hard Chart. So maybe we made some progress there.

"I thought that was one of our better first halves, especially on the road, on both ends of the court. We moved the ball well, with the assist to goal ratio of 14 out of 17. Our defense was good, we blocked shots."

Demetri McCamey played at less than full strength at Indiana, but hopefully it was a temporary problem.

"He was a little better yesterday. When you get the flu and sinus, you get worn down and tired. It was more of an energy thing I think Sunday against Indiana. He gave a good effort at the beginning of the game on the defensive end, but he didn't have the zip that he needed. He went through the whole practice Monday."

Calvin Brock had a monster rebound jam at Indiana, but he drew a technical foul for taunting. Weber was tolerant in this case. The celebration penalty is based on a complex dynamic.

"I'm old school with the celebrating. I try to be patient. I know they all want to do it. They watch TV, and it's part of the NBA game. It's the thing that gets shown on the highlights on ESPN. I tease them, I joke with them and try to be nice and tactful. Hopefully, they'll get the point.

"I don't think Calvin was trying to taunt somebody, he was yelling. He just happened to run into somebody. If he had run into somebody on purpose, I would have taken a stronger stance with it.

"One, it's something I don't enjoy in all sports. If somebody is down 30 points in a football game and tackles somebody, he runs around the field as if he did something. It doesn't make sense to me. Even a dunk with no one guarding you. So you dunked on the air. The air's not gonna stop you.

"You want to have a little bit of confidence and swagger, but at the same time you've got to be careful, especially in this tense time. I said at halftime, 'Don't infuriate the crowd.' Don't give the crowd or team something to hang their hat on.

"We got the technical, but we still have to be smart. So the next time maybe it doesn't cost you in the long run."

Illinois has now enjoyed several weeks in the Top 25 polls, and Weber appreciates the perks that come with it. But he also knows these last five games can make or break the Illini's national profile.

"The best thing about the polls is we're always on the highlights. As a commercial for our program, promoting our program, it's good. It's great for fans around the country. They're proud. They're talking about you everytime you're in a poll.

"Whether its the polls or RPI or quality wins or whatever you're looking at, those are all things that are gonna add up hopefully to a higher seed (for the NCAA Tournament). I think we're getting close to solidifying a bid. Obviously, if we have a total downturn at the end you could put yourself in a bind.

"So win your home games, and hopefully you make some strides. It's one thing to get in the Top 25, it's another thing to stay there. We've been able to do it. If we can stay in there the next three weeks, it's definitely a positive for everybody.

"I don't think there's a goal for seed. Let's see how the next week goes. After the next three games, you can get a better feel for how we will end up. Somebody said we were 13 in one RPI, which would give you a chance to be in the elite 16."

Weber knows his team needs the energy boost of a full house of loud and supportive Illini fans Wednesday night versus Penn State to keep on a winning track.

"There's still a long way to go and a lot of games. A lot of things can change, and we've got a tough stretch here. It's three games in 7 days, and two of them were on the road. This is a big game for us on Wednesday night to see if we can keep responding. That's why it's important we have a great crowd. Their energy can maybe help us get over the hump."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories