— A shameful response
Defined, booing falls somewhere between shabby and utterly contemptible.
That’s my opinion. If Wisconsin forges ahead of the Illini tonight and you can’t hold it back, shame on you.
Of course, there are better authorities on this subject because, like the fellow who can’t whistle, I can’t boo.
Maybe it’s psychological. All I know is the lips form, and nothing comes out. Just can’t do it. I can no more emit a boo than I can stop a sneeze.
Not that I lack feelings of disapproval when things go bad. Criticizing comes easy, often too loudly. But booing, no. It is so foreign that, when it strikes my ears, I can’t help but think less of the person emitting it.
A further confession is that perhaps I have a deaf ear because, when UI coach John Groce complained about it Saturday night — following an 81-74 basketball loss to Iowa — it wasn’t clear to what he referred.
Seated 12 feet from where Groce stands at the State Farm Center, you’d think we would hear the same crowd noises. He heard a chorus, I heard a solo.
“I was ticked off,” Groce was quoted by Marcus Jackson. “People were booing. You can say stuff about me. Don’t touch my guys.”
My first thoughts:
— OK, that’s seven straight losses, and the team is in the Big Ten cellar. A lot of folks are braving cold, icy conditions to attend, and they aren’t happy. In the din of an aroused crowd, there could have been some heckling Saturday out of my earshot.
— Iowa had a few raucous fans there. Maybe Groce heard comments from them, or perhaps Illini fans booing them when they celebrated.
— Was the response to Lou Henson’s brief appearance on the videoboard — Louuuuuu! — mistaken for boos?
— Some fans seemingly attend games to chastise the refs. That’s a favorite winter pastime.
— Boos don’t come with names attached. How do you distinguish the target?
Groce preferred to drop the subject Monday, but provided a brief explanation to clarify the matter.
The coach perceived catcalls directed toward two veteran players pictured prominently in Sunday’s News-Gazette, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand. Both played prominent roles in a rally that put Illinois ahead, 66-61, but couldn’t finish it off. Bertrand scored 20 points but made one turnover — just one — and it resulted in a three-point play by Roy Devyn Marble that increased the Iowa lead from 73-72 to 76-72. Bad timing, Joe.
Turning it around
Groce’s response Saturday was an act toward protecting two hard-working members of his squad, while accepting any barbs on his own back. He also made a point of applauding the ever-energized Orange Krush.
Upbeat as usual Monday, he let the talking points carry over:
“The first 10 minutes weren’t very good, but the last 30 minutes were the best we’ve played on both ends of the court. We executed, and we shared the ball. And the freshmen did a better job screening and cutting.
“That’s the hardest a team of mine has ever played in a loss. We have to build on that.”
The real problem is that Iowa has deeper, more experienced talent, ruled the fast break (10-0) and second-chance points (20-6), and received a season-best 15-point, 12-rebound performance from sub Gabriel Olaseni. Now comes Wisconsin, winner of six straight in the series, and the last four by margins of 70-56, 74-51, 74-68 and, last month, 95-70.
So let’s issue another call for patience. Face reality. The Illini have five freshmen on a 10-man scholarship squad. They’re generally overmatched.
Focus on the big picture: If this turns out to be a lost season, it will have little or no impact on what really matters, which is Groce’s ability to ultimately get it headed back in the right direction.
Don’t boo. The guys are trying. And besides, it’s not nice.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.