Illini Must Heal The Wounds Of PSU Debacle

The Fighting Illini basketball team is well advised to forget their game with Penn State and prepare for Ohio State with a clear and confident mind. But it is hard both for the team and the fans to let it go. Coach Bruce Weber lost a full night sleep over it, so perhaps a brief review will help us all put it to bed once and for all.

Speaking at his Friday teleconference, Illinois coach Bruce Weber admitted to insomnia after the Wednesday debacle.

"With the Big 10 Network, I watched it at 1:00 the other night. I didn't sleep one ounce. The sunrise took a long time. It took about 5 hours to come up."

Weber had to watch the sad replay, but he is unsure whether he will require his players to watch it this week. Trent Meacham and others have waded through the mess on their own, but thinking out loud Weber says he may wait until the rematch to force it on them.

"I've seen the tape two times. I think they need to see it because we didn't do a good job. We took some quick shots, we didn't do a great job screening. We did have some open shots and didn't make them. And then down the stretch the last 8 minutes, we obviously didn't do a good job on either end of the court. That's why we failed to win the game. I hope they watched it.

"If Ohio State played man to man, I think I'd watch it. But they don't. We play them (Penn State) again two weeks from now. Maybe you put it in the files and wait until we play them again. And hope they watched it enough to realize we didn't do a good job."

Illinois has shown resiliency in the past, coming back strong after bad showings at Minnesota and Wisconsin and never losing two games in a row. Weber hopes this loss will give them more incentive Sunday at Ohio State.

"I hope it's a motivator, gives us a sense of urgency, gives us a fear factor. Some of them are very laid back, casual, nonchalant. I think it helps them in some aspects, but not in other aspects. You need a little bit of nervousness, the bubbles in your stomach, just to get a little bit of an edge.

"I think that's why we struggle on the road. I think that's why we struggled the other night. I think we anticipated we were gonna come home and, nothing against Penn State, we had played well against top teams at home. We just kind of felt we were gonna win. All of a sudden, there was a lid on the hoop and things weren't going our way. It was an avalanche we couldn't get under control.

"What we don't do is we don't get any free throws. And we don't get in the paint enough. We rely on jumpshots. It's been our strength, but it also can be our weakness. And that's where we've got to get some mix. We've got to get transition. Some second chance points would be nice too. We didn't make our layups the other night. It was just one of those nights I guess.

"If we're gonna correct it, we have to get some lane touches and some baskets around the hoop. We've got to get to the free throw line."

On Tuesday night, the Illini were buoyed by Purdue's victory over Michigan State, giving Illinois a chance to compete for a conference title. Now, they are struggling to make the NCAA and have their backs against the wall.

"The most disappointing thing about the Penn State game was that we let a home game go by. Obviously, we didn't play well. But we still had a chance in the stretch run of the second half. That puts them one game closer to us. We go to their place now.

"And you have a bunch of other people that are all jammed up there in the middle. A lot of things can happen, and only so many teams are gonna get in the NCAA. We don't want to be in a bind where a bunch of people are tied 4 through 7 or 8."

Weber is still hopeful of an NCAA bid, but he feels the Illini must win two or three more games to guarantee that.

"I think we have to finish some more games out. I think we'll at least get 6 teams in, and maybe 7 if the scenario worked out. Our league is number two. We've had quality wins, our RPI is high. It's just a very balanced, competitive league. I think we've done it in the league and out of the league.

"But I don't want to get in that mix. I gave them a goal of 24 wins early. It's gonna be tough to reach 24, but it's possible. If we can get to 23 or 24, I sure would be comfortable that we're gonna be in there."

On the subject of personnel, Demetri McCamey said Friday he has his energy back after being under the weather the last few days. Weber expanded on the situation.

"I think he's better. Like a lot of people now, in the middle of winter, you have flu bugs and congestion. They said he went in at halftime and threw up a little bit. But they thought it was more just all the gunk from the cold and sinuses. It ended up gagging him a little bit from that while he was trying to play.

"He had a day off yesterday. You've got to fight through that stuff right now. There's a lot of teams with guys that are buggered up. Ankles and knees and colds. This is it. You're down to the last couple weeks of the season, so you've got to fight through those things if you're gonna have a team that does something special."

Weber would like to get Alex Legion playing at full efficiency, but inexperience and the pressure cooker Big 10 schedule have kept him from getting more playing time.

"Alex didn't make shots. I think he's lost some confidence. I told him the other day in an individual meeting that we can be patient, but we're fighting to get into the NCAA and stay up in the Big 10 race. We can only be so patient. At Indiana, he took a two to start out and made it. And then he shot a three and made it.

"He comes in the other night and throws up three threes and misses all of them. Now he loses confidence and we lose a little trust. He's got to find ways to get a little better shots in the paint, maybe work a little harder to get some 12 footers. Be a little more patient. He still can make some points, so when we're struggling it would be nice if he could step up and make a couple for us."

Fifth year senior Calvin Brock has struggled the last few games, but Weber is still pleased with his improvement this season and hopes he can finish on a high note.

"I have to give him credit for hanging in there. He enjoys being part of the program. He's had his ups and downs. He's struggled off the court in the classroom at times. He did graduate, and I think he'll finish up and get his second degree. He's been a valuable member of our team.

"I would like him to have a nice finish. He gives us those energy points, dunks and runouts and jumpers. I think he's hit a little lull and has struggled the last 3-4 games. He had some opportunities the other night, but he just couldn't get them down. I'm happy for him, and I hope this helps him down the road in life also."

The Big 10 always gets a bad rap nationally this time of year as the scoring totals decline and the pace of play slows. Regardless of what others think, Weber believes there are positive reasons for the downturn.

"I've always said, we guard and we prepare. When you get to the second round in the Big 10, we know each other so well. We've got great arenas, great environments. I think that's a factor. Sellout crowds, the intensity of the game, the coaching, I think those are all factors when you look at scores.

"I think the preparation of the defense is better (than other conferences). You have coaches that really put some time in it with their kids. It makes a difference, especially the second time around. It's not every game. But when you do have those intense, grind out games, part of it is the defense."

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