Three Field Goals March 22, 2013
It’s just too insane to ignore. In two NCAA tournament games this afternoon, a team made only three second half field goals and won. The team coached by John Groce, and the team Bruce Weber was coaching against.
I know, I know, we just won our second NCAA game since Dee Brown left, and in the first paragraph I mention the words BW. Well, I just can’t ignore it. The symbolism is too strong.
Actually, it’s precisely because we’ve only won two NCAA games in seven years that the symbolism is so strong. So much so that this might be the last time I mention his name. A door finally closed today for me. Just now, actually.
Here’s how it happened. 13-seed LaSalle took an 18 point lead at halftime on Kansas State. K-State mounted a furious comeback in the second half and even took the lead, but LaSalle, despite shooting 3-19 in the second half, pulled out the win.
7-seed Illinois took a 16 point lead over Colorado at halftime. Colorado make a furious comeback in the second half and even took the lead, but Illinois, despite shooting 3-22 in the second half, pulled out the win.
This all means something, right? It feels like there’s a lesson we’re supposed to learn from all of this. To me, it’s this:
All is well. We’re on the correct road. We’re on our way back. It feels like I’ll be dead and gone before Illinois goes through another six year stretch with only one NCAA Tournament win. We’re in good hands now. Maybe even great hands.
How can I say that after we almost choked away a huge halftime lead? Well, for starters, I’ll point to the last seven minutes of the first half and the first nine minutes of the second. Go through the game play-by-play, redistribute the points in those minutes, and this is simply a close game throughout. Instead, Colorado didn’t score for eight minutes, so we built a 16 point lead, and then we didn’t score for almost 10 minutes, so they built a four point lead. Close game for the first 10 minutes, close game for the last 10 minutes, two insane runs in between.
But beyond that, I’m stuck on our composure in the final four minutes (how huge were those offensive rebounds by Tracy and Nnanna, not to mention Brandon with 1-1 free throws?). Once again, in a close game, we made the plays we needed to.
Which has me feeling great about the future. This team, which finished last season 3-12 and wasn’t expected to dance this year, is now playing Miami on Sunday with a shot at the Sweet 16. Which, for me, closes the door on Bruce Weber.
When they cut into our game and showed the highlight of Kansas State not even getting a shot on the rim as the clock expired – freezing the screen as Bruce tried to call a timeout with 1.6 seconds remaining (???) – yeah, I was a little “HA HA BRUCE I DON’T MISS THAT AT ALL”. And after we won, I even squeezed off an “Illini win Bruce loses” tweet. I did the same when Self lost to Bucknell, and if John Groce ever leaves, I’ll probably do the same again. Ex-coaches are fun like that (although I never got around to mocking Lon, and now I just gaze longingly at Self).
But given some time to reflect, it feels like the door is now officially closed. If Bruce tells another radio station that he presided over the best nine years in Illinois history, I feel like I’ll be 1/10th as angry. It’s all in the past. We’re in extremely capable hands now.
Illinois hit only three field goals and won. K-State gave up only three field goals and lost. We’re headed to the ultimate gravy game against serious title contender Miami. Bruce is… well, who cares where he goes from here?
Illinois Basketball. Playing for the Sweet 16. Top-20 recruiting class coming in. Serious buzz in the next few recruiting classes. Capable head coach who now has a seriously impressive tournament record. Four seniors who have a chance to give us a game we’ll remember for 20 years.
And a door that’s now closed thanks to a Tracy layup, a DJ three, and a Brandon three. Onward, gentlemen. How ’bout one for the ages on Sunday?