Special Chart Has Illini Hustling

Illinois broke a three-game losing streak against Iowa by trying to fill up its "Matto Chart." The Gophers will have to equal the Illini's effort tonight if they want to beat Illinois.

After an Illinois game, there's a traditional box score that everyone can read to decipher what went right and wrong.

But Illini coach Bruce Weber isn't as interested in the regular box score as much as he is the unique chart that his team managers keep during each game.

Dubbed the "Matto Chart" in honor of late point guard Matt Heldman — who was killed in a car accident one year after helping lead Illinois to a share of the 1998 Big Ten title — it lets Weber and the entire team know who hustles the most every game.

Players earn points each time they deflect a pass, take a charge, dive on the floor or otherwise bust their butt to do something constructive. At the end of each season, the player who amassed the most points wins the Matto Award.

It's important to note that Dee Brown — now with the Utah Jazz — easily captured the Matto Award in each of his four seasons at Illinois.

It's also important to note that, prior to last week's games against Iowa and Michigan State, nobody had stepped forward to lay claim to Brown's title.

That's why Weber laid down specific demands in the minutes before Illinois knocked off Iowa on Wednesday to snap its three-game losing streak.

"I said, ‘Guys, the only way we're going to win is if (the Matto chart) is in the 40s,'" said Weber, noting that Illinois had 33 points against Ohio State in its previous game. "You've got to play with that kind of energy. I said, ‘I hate to do this, but if we don't get to 40, we're going to run a suicide for every one under it.' I basically threatened them."

So what happened? Illinois easily put its Matto number into the 40s, including a season-high 27 in the second half when the Illini rallied from a 6-point deficit to win 74-70.

Of course, Weber wants to see that sort of effort more than once. That's why he wasn't willing to pronounce his team's losing ways cured by one win.

"We've got to remember why we won," he said. "It'll be interesting."

Illinois remembered for a half at Michigan State. The Illini piled up 22 points on the Matto chart, but faltered after halftime and turned an 11-point halftime lead into a 63-57 loss.

NOTES

  • Has anyone considered there might be a Wooden Award hex?

    Almost immediately after learning he made the 50-man preseason list of Wooden Award candidates to watch, Illinois junior Brian Randle suffered a groin injury that required surgery and forced him to miss all but nine minutes of the season's first 10 games.

    Randle returned for the Dec. 9 game against Illinois-Chicago, but he didn't really return until last week when he lit up Iowa for a career-high-tying 16 points, a career-best six assists and six rebounds.

    Oh, and Randle also threw down his first two dunks since the Nov. 13 opener against Austin Peay. His first jam, a drive capped by a left-handed flush over Iowa's 6-foot-10 Kurt Looby, earned the No. 7 spot on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays of the day.

    "I guess tonight was my breakout game," Randle said afterward. "I think this game gives me a bar to set myself at as far as my physical play and emotional play."

  • Senior guard Rich McBride didn't start Illinois' first two Big Ten games as a dreadful shooting slump essentially forced coach Bruce Weber to start Jamar Smith ahead of him.

    But Weber had a hunch McBride would bust out against Iowa — and McBride delivered. After making just four of his previous 25 3-point attempts, McBride canned five of 10 against Iowa for 15 points. Weber called Smith before he made the switch.

    "I told him, ‘I want to give a shot of confidence and energy to Rich,'" Weber said. "I guess it worked."

    Junior center Shaun Pruitt is the only Illini to start every game as injuries continue to wreak havoc with coach Bruce Weber's desire for a consistent lineup and rotation. In fact, injuries have been so prevalent, Pruitt and backups Calvin Brock, Trent Meacham and Marcus Arnold are the only Illini to appear in every game.

    That's a far cry from the 2004-05 team that went all the way to the NCAA championship game. Illinois' lineup, forged during the latter third of the season before, never changed for all 39 games.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Brian Randle, F Warren Carter, C Shaun Pruitt, G Rich McBride, G Chester Frazier. Key Subs — G Jamar Smith, F Calvin Brock, G Trent Meacham, C Marcus Arnold, C Brian Carlwell.

    McBride stayed relatively hot at Michigan State. He hit three 3-pointers in a 67-second stretch of the first half to give Illinois an 8-point lead it couldn't hold.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just said, ‘Dunk the mother' ... and then I added another word." — Coach Bruce Weber to junior forward Brian Randle during the timeout that came shortly after Randle was snuffed by the rim on his first dunk attempt against Iowa. Randle, following the pep talk, threw down two highlight reel-worthy dunks.

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