Asmussen | Finally, Coach can rest easy

Asmussen | Finally, Coach can rest easy

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood had been fighting a cold, turning his voice a bit on the raspy side.

He got a lot better Wednesday night.

"Winning really feels really good," Underwood said.

The losses don't go down well for the feisty coach. It impacts his life. Simple things like sleeping.

On Wednesday, the second-year Illinois boss figured to snooze like a newborn.

That's what happens when his team resembles a Top 25 contender. Which it did in a blowout win against Minnesota.

"I'm not a very good sleeper, especially when we're not playing great. So that will be nice."

Underwood's team got off to a great start against the befuddled Gophers. The Illini jumped out to an early 10-point lead and never looked back.

The points piled up so quickly, the Illinois sports information folks were scrambling to find the last time the team hit 100.

The Illini didn't quite make it, settling for 95. Maybe next time.

Underwood knew before the opening tip it would be a good night for his then four-win team.

"We had a really good pregame," Underwood said. "We go pretty hard in pregame. We run through their stuff and I'm kind of like an offensive coordinator. I like to plan out my first four or five things I like to see."

There wasn't much to complain about.

"We just snapped right to it," Underwood said. "We were good. And we have not been doing that."

Underwood controls how many minutes his guys play. He reminded them of that, too.

"I told them if they didn't play hard I was taking them out and if they didn't run hard, I was taking them out," he said.

The halftime chat went even better. His team led by 23 points. It's been a while since Illinois had that kind of positive gap in a Big Ten game,

"It was the first time we haven't talked about 'Hey, let's play a second half,'" Underwood said.

That's the kind of pep talk a coach gives when his team is getting pounded. Underwood got to put that one away.

"We just said, 'The game's 40 minutes, let's finish the game,'" Underwood said. "Some of the nonsense we've had go on in the second halves, we didn't talk about that at all. 'Let's just go finish the game.'"

Closer look

Last time out, Underwood tried to fire his jacket into the stands during a loss against undefeated Michigan.

That drew a technical, which was the plan. His first of the year.

Rather than focus on the game Wednesday, I followed Underwood's every move. From the start of the game to the time he shook hands with good guy Richard Pitino, who praised him afterward.

Underwood's potential projectile was a blue sports jacket (with requisite orange tie).

The folks in the front row were never in danger.

(A related question: If the coach tosses his jacket into the stands, shouldn't the catcher be allowed to keep it? Like a foul ball in baseball?)

Back to the point: Underwood's clothing stayed on. The entire game.

As the players were introduced just before the start, Underwood greeted each one on the court.

Early on, Underwood stayed near his seat.

He jumped up to congratulate the team when it forced a shot-clock violation against the Gophers. Running out the clock on offense has been an issue for the Illini in recent games and Underwood was glad to see it happen to the opponent.The first beef with the officials, albeit a small one, came when Kipper Nichols was called for an offensive foul.

You have probably noticed that Underwood likes to demonstrate to the officials what he thinks are incorrect calls.

He does it with a bit of a scowl. But the officials seem to take it in stride.

Underwood appreciated the noise from the Orange Krush. With classes back in session, the building was livelier against the Gophers.

The fans tried to help, counting the seconds when the shot clock ran low. Underwood was right there with them.

"Know the clock," he shouted. Repeatedly.

Not backing down

The more the Illini built the lead, the more intense Underwood got.

Being winless in the Big Ten certainly added to the sense of urgency.

All coaches want more. Too many big leads have been blown to ever allow them to be comfortable. No margin is safe.

Underwood got to send his son Tyler into the game. It's a joy few coaches get to experience.

It's loud on the court. Not always easy to hear the coach standing so far away.

Underwood has a couple of tools he uses. One, he cups his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice. He also has a shrill whistle that I am pretty sure was heard in Savoy.

Underwood had work done on his knee within the last year. It didn't slow him down Wednesday.

He moved often up and down the sideline. Made it easier to let the officials know what was on his mind.

The Illini did what their coach asked at halftime, building the lead from 23. The Gophers never threatened.

Underwood's team will try to start a Big Ten winning streak Sunday at Iowa.

The vantage point for the media isn't quite as good at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as it is at the State Farm Center. But I will try to keep track of Underwood's jacket and any potential launchings.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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