Tate: Close doesn't cut it

MINNEAPOLIS — No matter what happens along the way, Illini basketball games boil down to the final minute ... free throws ... clutch shots ... desperation.

Saturday night's Williams Arena shootout was the same but different.

In a remarkable exchange of scoring runs, Illinois won it, lost it, won it, lost it and it ended there, 77-72 in overtime ... the UI's third straight last-ditch loss after winning 10 of 11 previously in tight finishes.

There are those who preach fouling with a three-point lead and the clock dipping under :07, but that foul dare not come in the act of shooting. That's what happened. Illinois led 64-61 with the seconds ticking off, and Minnesota's hard-driving Austin Hollins drew an unintentional fifth foul from Meyers Leonard at :04 as the layin caromed in. Hollins' free throw sent the game into overtime and the Illini, without Leonard (17 points, 13 rebounds), saw the Gophers avenge their overtime loss in Champaign earlier.

Credit Tubby Smith's bench. The Gopher reserves produced 13 field goals and 39 points.

UI junior Brandon Paul turned in another extraordinary late-game effort as he brought Illinois back from a 44-35 deficit with 22 of his 28 points after that point. Paul and Leonard combined to build leads of 58-53 and, on two Paul free throws at :12, 64-61.

Both sides missed free throws, Minnesota 12 and Illinois 10. In the end, the shot making of the unrelated Hollins boys, Austin and Andre, made the difference. They combined for 26 points, 15 of them in game's final 5:30.

"We didn't stop them in the stretch," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "They made the plays when it counted. We played our butts off. But we were atrocious from the three-point line (3 of 21).

"We need Brandon to play with that urgency from the beginning. But, overall, I couldn't be prouder."

Bench marked

Illini bench failures were emphasized in the first half when Minnesota's Smith, frustrated by a lackluster getaway (a 15-8 deficit), stunned the home crowd by subbing at all five positions.

The Gophers came alive with two quick goals by sophomore Chip Armelin, and the reserves went on a 10-0 run that reversed the momentum.

"I haven't seen the reserves do anything like that all season," said Spencer Tollackson, Gopher broadcaster, at the break.

The Minnesota subs drained eight of their first nine shots and racked 20 first-half points to send Minnesota ahead 30-26. For Illinois, meanwhile, the first-half letdown could be traced directly to Weber's attempt to give early playing time to several backups. The Illini went nearly five minutes without a basket and, once the Gophers moved ahead, they picked up steam from a supportive crowd.

The Minnesota coach mixed regulars and subs after halftime. Armelin southpawed his third trey to make it 44-35, at which point (with 12:00 to go), the entire UI team had just two bombs. And yet, Illinois rallied with a 17-3 run as Paul and Leonard became dominant on the offensive end.

Recruiting front

Barring sudden changes Wednesday — bound to happen — Ohio State and Michigan will again dominate Big Ten football recruiting. Those two have the only five-star players poised to sign, according to Rivals. The rest of the Big Ten has none. Those two have 23 four-star prospects. The other 10 conference schools have 22.

While neither Rivals nor Scout credit the Illini with any four-star players, recruiting analyst Tom Lemming puts two Floridians in that category: running back Dan Ayoola and defensive tackle Teko Powell. Lemming adds that two of the three in-state commitments, Mount Carmel tackle Vontrell Williams and Lincoln-Way East receiver Jason Robertson, are three-plus in his differing view. At the same time, NCSA analyst and former Illini center Randy Taylor calls 6-foot-5 Kansas receiver Elliot Faerber "a sleeper with a big up-side," and Pennsylvanian T.J. Neal a "downhill linebacker with good potential."

It's a weak class — rated last in the Big Ten by Scout — but ousted coach Ron Zook did his best with the ax over his head. Tim Beckman and his new staff have conducted three busy weekends of campus visits and hope to announce some surprises Wednesday. Beckman tried to get in on Minnesota's top prospect, Andre McDonald, when the Hopkins receiver decommitted from Vanderbilt, but he elected to stay home with the Gophers.

Tate's tidbits

Notes with a Minneapolis tinge:

— Royce White, whose social anxiety disorder is believed to be at the root of problems that caused his departure from Minnesota, leads Iowa State in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, and is the only player in the six major conferences to lead his team in all five. White had 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists in serving Kansas its first Big 12 loss, 72-64, Saturday.

— Californian Julian Welch, a juco transfer attending his fourth school in five years, is shooting 82 percent on free throws for the Gophers. You might say that when he stepped to the line at Illinois on Dec. 27 with Minnesota leading 64-62 and 15 seconds left, there was roughly an 80 percent chance the Gophers would win. But he missed, Leonard didn't, and Illinois won in double overtime. Welch was barely noticeable Saturday, scoring two points in 20 minutes.

— Booze at a campus sports event always raises a furor. But it'll probably be cleared at Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium if the Vikings move there while an outdoor facility replaces the Metrodome. If it happens, and it's still in the development stage, you could attend a beer-less Gopher game one day and guzzle all you want with the Vikings a day later. Last I heard they spent $18 million last July to replace the air-supported membrane roof with fiberglass panels. Now they're considering its destruction, and it'll take millions just to tear down.

Mood check

Why I Feel YOUNG ...
Visits to Minneapolis put a hop in my step because Sid Hartman, who’ll turn 92 in March, is still pounding out a column for the Star-Tribune. Sid doesn’t travel much any more, but he gets around, and his downtown statue went up on his 90th birthday.

Why I Feel OLD ...
Trying to keep pace with Paul Klee is impossible, even if I was 50 years younger. Klee grabbed an early flight Friday, caught the Timberwolves’ game, stayed with his contacts via nonstop texting, and reached our room at 3 a.m. How does he do it?

Loren Tate writes for The News- Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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RPeterE wrote on January 28, 2012 at 11:01 pm

FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBERFIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE WEBER FIRE BRUCE WEBER

 

Dan Bloeme wrote on January 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm
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Only thing keeping Weber around year after year guarantees is consistently mediocre finishes in the Big Ten and being on NCAA bubble more often than getting good seed. Bruce should have been fired already after his 2nd mediocre season, most definitely now going on his 6th.

jeffh wrote on January 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

Give it a rest.

steve1770 wrote on January 29, 2012 at 1:01 am

Let me start out by saying this... that call at the end of regulation was the worst call that will ever be made by any poor excuse for a referee... ever. The guy 2 feet away from the play didn't call anything because there wasn't any contact. The asswipe at the top of the 3-pt circle felt the need to pretend he could see the play well enough to completely affect a game all by himself in the last 2 seconds. I've never been to referee school but I imagine they probably don't teach you that if you can't see what is happening, and the other two refs have closer/better angles on a play, it's probably not a great idea to blow your whistle.  

That being said, it is time for a change of coaches. I've tried not to be like all of the boobs for years who have been calling for Weber's job. But I'm just fed up with the mediocrity and there's no one else to blame. It's just time to have someone else. It's clearly not working unless being in the middle of the conference every year is acceptable, which I don't think is something the new AD is really striving for.

I'm tired of losing to crap teams. The program has been moving downward for years. Thanks to Jerrance Howard, we keep bringing in top 100 recruits but consistently lose to teams with less talent. I'd rather have less top recruits and have actual basketball players, like when Lon Kruger was the coach. Our players very rarely get better throughout their careers. DJ was freshman of the year in the conference 2 yrs ago and he's regressed to the point where he literally shouldn't be on the floor anymore. I couldn't believe that he actually made that layup at the end of regulation. Problem is -- there's no one to replace him.

Everyone else just runs around looking confused. It is an absolute joke. How can top recruits like Egwu, Abrams and Henry suck so much, even if they are freshmen. Freshmen on other teams don't still look like they're confused and scared in late-January -- why do ours? Tons of other schools wanted them, so it's not like they're not talented. Other coaches/staffs would just get more out of them.

 

That's all I can write -- I'm going to go puke and wait to get the crap kicked out of us by MSU at home on Tuesday. Oh, by the way, real teams don't lose at home, either.

blmillini wrote on January 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm

The call was terrible but Myers should not have been in a position to give the referee that chance.  With so little time left and a three point lead you either let the guy score by completely getting away from him or you make sure he does not get a shot off.  Another dumb play!

peterborich wrote on January 29, 2012 at 3:01 am

Loren, yet another game lost to a team with inferior talent . .in this case, losing to Minnesota's bench, for gosh sake.  Yet we stupid Illini fans have no business asking for change. 

MOillinifan wrote on January 29, 2012 at 7:01 am
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It has been long enough...Weber is not the answer...Give Brad Stevens or Dave Rose a call A.D. Thomas...It is time to let Weborn go!

Moonpie wrote on January 29, 2012 at 11:01 am

You said it, peterborich. We can't ask for change or express any opinions until Moses Saint Tate says so. He knows all, sees all. A legend in his own mind.


Hmmm...is is really that bad of a loss? Sounds like a bad call basically snatched the win from Illinois.


I keep thinking that Weber is a good enough coach who keeps recruiting whiny players with problems between their ears -- like Foul Machine Myers Leonard, the next Bill Russell, don't ya know.

crackerman wrote on January 29, 2012 at 7:01 am

Was that former Purdue bball player Brad Miller sitting behind the Illinois bench wearing an Illini ball cap during the game?

DoCUmEnT wrote on January 29, 2012 at 9:01 am

Well said, somtimes the truth hurts and we've seen this movie before.  I see new talent there on the court, struggling to develop because the coaching hasn't adapted or even changed their plays at all. Bruce loves that 7 man; 8 man rotation and doesnt play his bench enough. We had a cupcake schedule early on and had multiple games where these freshman could of played more. why is it our team is always underachieving? It is Embarassing!!!! I hate to put these losses on Weber but I mean... look around, no change in his philosophy and other great coaches get tge most out ALL OF THEIR PLAYERS....PRACTICE AND ESPECIALLY THE GAME....It is his fault for not getting these kids ready. ...... time for a change