UI 85, Gonzaga 74: 'A spectacular performance'

SPOKANE, Wash. — Before Saturday, the signature game of Brandon Paul’s career at Illinois was his 43-point showing in an upset win against No. 5 Ohio State last season at the Assembly Hall.

He didn’t score 43 in Saturday’s 85-74 win at No. 10 Gonzaga, but Paul’s performance against the Bulldogs might have been more impressive.

The 6-foot-4 senior guard scored a season-high 35 points to go along with four rebounds, three assists and three steals in front of 6,000 fans packed inside a sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I thought it was a spectacular performance,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I really believe it. He’s one of the best guards in the country, one of the best players in the country, and he played like it tonight.”

Paul’s composed play in his 18-point first half helped rally the 13th-ranked Illini from an early 8-0 deficit in what was shaping up to be a runaway for the Bulldogs (9-1).

“This one was better than Ohio State,” fellow senior D.J. Richardson (11 points, six rebounds) said of Paul’s night. “It was on the road in front of a good crowd against a well-coached team in a tight arena.”

The game was shaping up to be a blowout in favor of Gonzaga, which was 110-7 at McCarthey Athletic Center since the building opened for the 2004-05 season. The Bulldogs led 8-0 and the rabid student section had the floor shaking.

But the Illini, who got 14 points and four rebounds from Tracy Abrams and nine points from Joseph Bertrand off the bench, kept their poise. Paul led the way.

“The thing they showed me tonight, that beginning of the game when we got stung, they didn’t flinch,” Groce said. “They kind of just kept playing, and I think that’s a sign of good things going forward.”

After Illinois’ win, everyone inside The Kennel was gushing about Paul’s play, including NBA Hall of Famer and Gonzaga alum John Stockton.

“He was terrific,” Stockton said.

Everyone was gushing, except for the man himself.

“It’s up there, I don’t like to dwell on my individual performances,” Paul said. “I’m obviously ecstatic that we won. Gonzaga’s a great team and we came out fighting and got the victory.”

Illinois snapped a nine-game road skid against ranked teams and with 10 wins has the most in Division I.

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JimOATSfan wrote on December 09, 2012 at 4:12 am

Stunning surprise since I couldn't watch the game live (2pm in Melbourne) as we were at a family event.  We were driving home late this afternoon when passed by a white car that had the license plate: ZGS 901.  This could be read as ZAGS 9 wins-0 ties-1 loss.

I though to myself, now if Gonzaga had won, the plates would have said: GZA 100, or 10 wins-0 losses.

So I concluded that maybe the Illini won. Happy news tonight.

Go Illini!

LoyalIllini wrote on December 09, 2012 at 6:12 am

WOW - I'm sold on this team, even with a few weird inevitable losses down the road. We have officially moved on.

Illini1973 wrote on December 09, 2012 at 7:12 am

And to think, Groce didn't even have to dress in black for a 'funeral' of Weber before we moved on.

IlliniTim 1983 wrote on December 09, 2012 at 9:12 am

This amazing start makes me as happy for these seniors as I am for all of us fans.   They deserve to have some success, after what they have been through (especially the way last season came to a terrible end).

I won't bash Bruce, but I am so happy to have John Groce as our coach.  What a difference from last year.   I just love it that Brandon, Joe, D.J., Tyler & Company are shining right now.  After last year, they must be on cloud nine right now.   Their loyalty over the last few years, in addition to the never give-up attitude and resiliency they have displayed so far this season define what being a Fighting Illini is all about!  It's tough to be an Illini living in SEC-country, but on mornings like today it sure is easy to put on that U of I hat, and proudly go about my business in town.    

Let's keep showing good support for these young men as the season goes on, and keep these positives in mind as a few losses will surely happen, as the above ^^^ poster mentioned.  

 

Go Illini!!!

illinigator wrote on December 09, 2012 at 10:12 am

I wonder if the Illinois players will remember kindly the past 3 years under Bruce?  They should thank heaven on Earth for Croce for letting them play their game and utalize their talents.

illinigator wrote on December 09, 2012 at 10:12 am

I just got off the ESPN site where their sports writer Myron Metcalf, made some redicules remarks about how Illinois may not win if Paul wasn't carrying them.  There was nasty remarks from angry Illinos fans.  This writer said he still isn't sold on Illinois and if the Zags would have kept getting the ball inside, they would have walked away with the game.   

geriatricillini wrote on December 09, 2012 at 11:12 am

If folks are not happy about this one, they never will be...what's not to like ? This is what we wanted isn't it? Sure we will lose games...the last undefeated team was Indiana in 1976! Who won't? Get on the bus, enjoy the ride and quit worrying about running out of fuel. This trip will be interesting. If a team has some decent seniors who know it's the last roundup, that team can become a surprise and I think we fit the bill..especially if one of them can lead...BP can lead and he is...how many B10 wins...I have no idea, the conference is a mine field...just play loose and play tough and good things wil happen. It's only one game of a 32 game schedule..enjoy it, but there is still work to do. This team will show up for work and I feel they can be a factor in the conference. I don't want to look any further ahead than that...Oh yeah. Mizzou is still waiting...what a game that should be if we take care of business with those two home games we have coming up. I feel we can beat Auburn in Chicago later on. Things are looking up on the hardwood. Isn't this better than what we expected?

floridaturbo wrote on December 09, 2012 at 11:12 am

Who are these guys?  They are quick, athletic gunners who have been turned loose to play their kind of ball after 6 years of trying to adjust to an offense built around lumbering seven footers.  Nice to be back to Deron-Dee style of play. 

CecilColeman wrote on December 09, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Tell Myron Metcalfe to go crawl into a hole with Bruce Pearl.

Bear8287 wrote on December 09, 2012 at 12:12 pm

"Attack Mode"

Some fans wondered last year what the difference was between "playing not to lose" and playing to win.  Last night's game against Gonzaga is a good example of that difference.  With the Illini up 75-71 and 2:30 remaining in the game, instead of trying to just run out the clock and hang on for dear life, the Illini continued to attack and left McCarthey Athletic Center with an 11 point victory over Gonzaga.

Congratulations to the Illini players and coaching staff!

Two questions yet to be answered about this Illini team though are: 1) How will the Illini handle going into some big games now as the favorite?  The Illini were underdogs in the Maui tournament and going into last night's game with Gonzaga. What was almost unthinkable at the beginning of the season, the Illini going into the Missouri game as the favorite, is now quite possible and perhaps even likely. 2) The Illini are clearly playing much closer to their potential against strong competition (e.g. Butler & Gonzaga). Will the team continue to mature and bring their "A" game against weaker opponents (Hawaii & Gardner-Webb) too?

Stay tuned. As long as Coach Groce keeps this Illini team in "Attack Mode" though, I think this Illini team's future is bright.

Go Illini!

 

 

 

JimOATSfan wrote on December 09, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Count ESPN's Andy Katz as officially on the Illini bandwagon in this post about Illinois being the Team Of The Week in their 'Pick n' Roll' feature:

http://espn.go.com/ncb/notebook/_/page/notebookweeklywatch121209/pick-n-... Cheers!

Of note is that Coach Weber has started at 7-1 so far at KSU. 

DaisyJ wrote on December 09, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Over the past years of the stuborn know all coach weber we have been told that a zone is not needed and some players could never get in a game because they just did not look good enough in practice to even get a chance to play. Fast forward, and lo and behold, the same players play a pretty good zone and lo and behold, we see Shaw give us some minutes, quality minutes. We have been told by Tate that the reason some guys cannot get in is because it just would not help. Well well well, I could never understand how a kid could be good enough to be on the team with a scholarship but all of a sudden go bad. The person responsible for a kid going bad appears to weber. Can you believe we scored 85 pts. We actully tried to score instead of run clock. Shame on you Guenther, shame a little on the media, tate and turpin and the wdws after game commentators for protecting a guy like weber. He should have been gone long ago. 

annabellissimo wrote on December 09, 2012 at 7:12 pm

100% agreement DaisyJ, but be prepared for all of the (still) Weber-lovers to come on and tell you to "move on" and call you a "Weber basher" and all of the rest of their weird and vitriolic nonsense. Honestly, I could almost FEEL the tight bands of Weber oppression being undone last night in MY spirits. I can only imagine what it must feel like to this team. Weber was the kind of figure who just sucks all of the life and light out of an experience but now we are free!! He brought us down, not just from losing, but from HIS ways. My gut tightens just thinking about him. I am so happy and am so glad John Groce is our coach and our players at long, long last have the chance that Weber denied them. I am so happy to see these young athletes get to PLAY THE GAME and show their spirit.  I am so happy to see the players whose aspirations and talents and spirits were being sadistically ruined by Weber Weirdness get to break free and be who they always were, but who Weber wouldn't let them be. I was just glad that he was gone - FINALLY - and then I was glad for the hiring of Groce but now I am ecstatic for the simple joy that has returned to basketball.

DaisyJ wrote on December 09, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Well, I just cannot wait to  watch the fans react to the boring weborn show they are about to endure. I see a 65 to 62 win vs average George Washington last night. Geeze, they had almost everyone back on a high scoring team. ha ha..serves all you KState fans right. Thanks for taking him off our hands. What should we have expected, Gene Keady's teams were the same thing.

annabellissimo wrote on December 09, 2012 at 7:12 pm

John Groce has returned the joy of basketball to a team that had had it drained out of them and he has let them play the game and show their stuff and it was an absolute delight to watch. Their faces and body language showed the change that has taken place. And they PLAYED!  It was a joy to watch and in my household we are so happy for the team and Coach Groce and for the fans who knew what the problem was but had to endure the vitriol of the supporters of the ex; to those who doubted it, it is now clear what COACHING can do (and can compare it to the damage done over the past few years).  It is so gratifying to see our players get this chance and get to avoid the sad regret that could have been their lot, through no fault of their own, if they never got the chance to play like they did last night. For people who really love basketball and love seeing young athletes develop in healthy, happy ways, John Groce has also returned joy to us.  We heard Coach Groce interviewed after the game and were so pleased to hear him comment on the ACADEMIC demands on our team members in the coming weeks and hear him emphasize the importance of their hard work in that part of their lives, too.  Our new coach is an intelligent, educated man and not a self-serving opportunist. He is a good coach and he is coaching a good team and we are so glad to have the joy of Illinois basketball back!  To see the unrepressed joy on the faces of our team was just so wonderful.  Happy night of basketball!

kewaneeillini wrote on December 09, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Remember the ball movement from '04/'05 and how sweet it was to watch?  Well, I'm seeing flashes this year that take me back.  Still not in the same league but it's the best I've seen since '04/'05.

Coach Groce is now 11-0 and has his team headed in the right direction.  I just find it amusing that 75% of the posters on this website were so up in arms about his hiring, at the time, and how easily people forget while the wins keep piling up.  Just saying.........

billriii wrote on December 09, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Great night.  Defense was swarming.  Over and backs, steals and blocks.  Also Gonzaga looked really tired after 10 minutes of play.  Gonzaga was really strong but was run to death by the Illini. 

illinigator wrote on December 10, 2012 at 2:12 am

Beware of a let down from Saturdays gametuesday night.  Remember what happen after Maui?  These kind of games can be trap games.  Some times it's hard not to have a let down.  This is where I'm hoping Croce is way better than Bruce was.  With saying that, this team has really has gotten my hopes up for this season.  Go Illini! 

read the DI wrote on December 10, 2012 at 8:12 am

Love the way this team is coached. Go after them! Why walk if you can run?

That would have been an L last year, no question.