Saturday, March 26, 2005


Over the past two days, the Illini and the Wildcats each marched on to the Elite 8.

The Illini pushed into the Final 8 on the backs of their 3-guard combo: Deron Williams (21 points, 8 assists) controlling the tempo of the game masterfully, Dee Brown (21 points, 5-8 on threes) throwing daggers from the deep, Luther Head gutting through a bad hammy to put the clamps on Wisconsin-Milwaukee's leading scorer (ed McCants, 4-17 shooting). The Illini kept the game in a comfortable zone, in the 10-point range, by cutting off UWM's two favorite mechanisms: turning the ball over on the press and hitting the three. With Deron in charge, Illinois turned the ball over a mere 9 times (Alabama had done so 19 times, BC 22 times in the previous UMW wins). With the perimeter defense charged up, UMW shot only 24% from 3-point range (7 of 29). Take these weapons away, and it took a career effort from Joah Tucker (32 points) to keep the score a respectable 77-63.

Arizona now awaits at the moldy Allstate Arena, where yours truly will be in attendance.

Last night it was the Wildcats turn. The opponent was the Utah Utes (what's a Ute?), for the sixth time in the last 13 NCAA tournaments. The key opponent was to have been All-American center Andrew Bogut, but the key opponents instead turned out to be the boys in the striped shirts. Four Wildcats, including three starters (Morris, Hayes & Azubuike) were whistled for 2 first-half fouls. Per Tubby's hard-and-fast rule, this meant pine time for all four (an energized Ravi Moss being the fourth). The result was a serious test for the bench which Tubby had spent the entire season developing. The test was passed, particularly by the two bench bigs, Lukasz Obrzut and Shagari Alleyne.

In the end, Bogut got his numbers (20 points, 12 boards), but it was an ugly process to get there (8-19 from the floor, 4-11 from the line), and the Cats, much like the Illini, kept the opponent at arms length for most of the game.

The Cats now await Michigan State. Sparty destroyed CBS's hopes of replaying the Laettner shot ad nauseum by taking out the suddenly sucky JJ Redick (4-14 for the game, 10-38 for his now completed NCAA tournament), the always sucky Shavlik Randolph (5 points total in the tournament for the McDonalds All-Stiff), and the Duke Blue Devils. Sparty joined Bucky and Chief in the Elite 8 as the Big Ten completely rehabilitated its somewhat tattered reputation at the expense of the ACC (Bucky made the trip on the back of North Carolina State). In fact, the ACC was one ridiculous traveling call from being out of the tournament altogether, as North Carolina hung on by the length of Tom O'Neill's whistle string to beat Villanova 67-66 in Syracuse.


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