Monday, March 28, 2005

More Illinois coverage

Can basketball fans in Central Illinois get enough right now? Of course not! Work was buzzing today, and they had the navy and orange Illinois flag flying right beneath the stars and stripes. Let's face it -- Illinois hasn't had a sports team to root for in a while. We're primed and ready and this will be a crazy week.

Want to know what the bus back to Champaign was like Saturday night? Adam Rittenberg has some details at the Daily Herald. What were the Illini up to Sunday morning? Mark Tupper has some details. It includes a prediction for an Illinois-Michigan State final. Wouldn't that be sweet?

Overall media consensus is that the public wants to see our Fighting Illini meet UNC in the final.

Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News names Jack Ingram's steal the play of the weekened.

Finally, congratulations to my buddy Iowa Wine Guy whose younger brother's HORSE shooting prowess has landed him a ticket to the Edward Jones Dome Final Four action. I am WAY jealous, but unfortunately I don't have an extra thousand dollars lying around at the moment. I'm very happy for him though and hope he gets to witness history firsthand.
Wasting time

Distracted from my work this evening, I have tuned into the first episode of the new Bachelor run. Long-time readers of this blog know that I enjoyed the first few season of this show, but that fascination ended around the time of . I watched the Season with Bob's castoff Meredith as the Bachelorette, but I haven't been an avid fan since.

I watched some of the Bachelor premiere tonight, and I feel like I just wasted an hour of my life. They have turned it into a bunch of shallow cheerleaders catfighting over a cocky a**. (Pardon my french). It saddens me that this show rolls on while quality television shows like Arrested Development and Jack & Bobby (not to mention American Dreams & Joan of Arcadia) may be nearing their final episodes.

American Dreams season (and possibly series) finale airs on NBC Wednesday at 7 pm CST. Watch good ones folks, please...especially since there's no basketball on!

Sunday, March 27, 2005


First and foremost, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Hope you had a glorious, awe-inspiring, life-affirming holiday.

After last night's incredibly exciting game and an Easter day spent running around Central Illinois to see family, I am spent (and hopefully not sick). Happily though I turned my assignment in two hours before the deadline and proceeded out into the blogosphere.

Great links for Illinois coverage
BigTenWonk's great summary of the entire game
UnderScoreBleach on media reaction to the Illinois comeback
Jay Mariotti admits this one was unforgettable
As always, Mark Tupper is great here and here

Also, hooray for the Big Ten! Big kudos to Michigan State for knocking off Kentucky today in 2OT. We really thought the KY player's toe was touching the 3-point line at the end of regulation. Props to Wisconsin for a valiant effort against North Carolina as well. Who can say this conference is down after watching the games this weekend? Very few me thinks.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

What a night

I have been trying to work on homework for my mba classes, but I can't stay off the net and am not getting much done. The adrenaline from the game has kept me distracted, but it's start to wear off.

I highly recommending checking out ESPN's heart-wrenching pictures from the game and its aftermath in their Illinois-Arizona photo gallery.
WOO HOO! 90-89!

That is all -- a comeback for the ages. Wish they had started playing like champs earlier, but I am so excited right now. First Final Four since I was in 5th grade -- how I am kicking myself for not getting in the ticket lottery last year now!

And you have to love Roger Powell for dancing in front of the camera giving credit to where credit's due.
8:20 pm

I eat my words.

The last words of my last post that I edited out? "I dare them to prove me wrong". They just did. I should dare them more often.

If they pull this off in OT, this will be a storybook ending. Unbelievable comeback just pulled off -- I just wish they could have started it about 30 seconds earlier. Or the fouling of Dee had gotten called at the end of regulation. Bill Murray is amazed too.

PS Apparently Augie didn't get charged with the foul.
Sad in Central Illinois

Defense has collapsed. Arizona's hit a shot every trip down the court. Calls are not going their way. Augie just fouled out. Not happy at our house right now. After as well as they played at the beginning of the season, I am saddened it may end like this. Elite Eight part Deux. But I supposed we could have always been Kansas or Wake.

I'm trying to keep it in perspective given the time of year and how basketball really does not trump my faith, life, family, and everything else...but I'm pretty darn sad right now with 4 minutes left.
Sweet 16 Weekend

Last year at this stage of the tournament, I was sitting in the upper deck of the Georgia Dome, still a bit heartbroken over Illinois's recent loss to Duke and cheering my heart out for Xavier and Thad Matta. What a difference a year makes to an Illinois fan huh?

This year an interesting confluence of events -- work, tons of work for my grad classes, Easter observance, and the fact that the Rosemont Arena / Chicago regional was sold out well over a month ago -- has transpired to keep me at home. I'm sitting here on my laptop trying to concentrate on a marketing project (due tomorrow night at midnight, Easter and the tourney must not be of significance to my prof) and trying to keep my mind off the Illinois-Arizona game tonight.

I should be feeling pretty good -- Illinois's play against UW-Milwaukee was impressive. They were hitting great shots and shutting down their foe offensively. James Augustine was pretty quiet, but I tend to believe that's because Dee Brown and Deron Williams were both inspired. Luther Head hit some key shots, despite playing with a sore hamstring.

Instead, I am a little bit weary of deja vu. About three years ago this weekend, I was out at a local Godfather's Pizza with my husband's family, watching Illinois take on Arizona in the Elite Eight. It was a brutal game that seemed to have one-sided officiating in that Illinois seemed to be called for foul after foul, with no one calling a thing on the Wildcats. To this day, my husband still claims it's because Lute Olson ran around the week before the game complaining about how physical Illinois was. I just remember watching Robert Archibald take shot after shot (think it was a career game for him) but still coming up short. Archibald and Lucas Johnson were two of my favorite Illinois players ever. It's probably their fault I'm such a nutty fan now. Man, was I heartbroken after that game though.

So I'm a little bit nervous about tonight, but I am comforted by one fact. This year, whenever Illinois has been confronted with a game that it views as a challenge, it came to play. Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Michigan State. There were tense moments in a few of these games, but Dee or Deron or Luther or James always took charge and turned the team in the right direction. Any time they've had a clear-cut goal, they've achieved it. I'm fairly confident that they will do the same tonight. Let's hope they show up as determined as they did for all those key match-ups earlier in the season.

As this Daily Herald article quotes Weber as saying, "I think it will be a catastrophe (in the players’ minds) if we lose. They’ve set high goals. We’ve laid them out there. People know it...They want it. We’re in a position to get it. Will it be easy? No. We’re going to have to play a great ballgame. I’m hoping, like we did in some of the earlier games — Wake and Gonzaga — we’ll be able to pick it up again to another level.”

Here's to hoping for win #36. Go out there, avenge the earlier Wildcat defeats, and make Illini Nation proud. Build the Big Ten up a bit more (yay Michigan State and Wisconsin), knock Salim Stoudamire down a peg or two, and show the nation why we've been Illinois believers all season long.
Little fun reading for you...

ESPN's Jim Caple had a bit of fun at U of I over the past two weeks. It's a great account of how basketball fever has been sweeping Champaign-Urbana. Check out these accounts for a bit of a laugh -- there's funny pictures involving Tigger suits!

Day 1 -- Back to school at Sigma Phi Epsilon
Day 2 -- Classes, Brothers & karaoke
Day 3 -- Perfect storm of St. Paddys & FDU game
Day 4 -- Out with the girls

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Notes from the RCA Dome

We had an incredibly good weekend in Indy. We are beat as usual, but I must say: if you are ever pondering attending NCAA tournament games, go for it. The tickets are not that expensive and the atmosphere is incredible. Especially when you are one of the orange-wearing throngs cheering on the #1 team in the nation in a packed dome of a basketball stadium. Random notes from the front...

  • We arrived towards the end of the EKU vs. UK game on Thursday. Eastern Kentucky gave UK quite a scare. Some of the freethrows they hit were incredible. I wasn't sure who to root for -- the underdog or the team I have heading to the Final Four in at least one of my brackets!

  • For perhaps the first time in my life, I heard the crowd go nuts when the pep band walked onto the court, setting up for Illinois during the Iowa-Cincinnati game.

  • A teenage girl still lurks inside me somewhere, because I got a bit giddy and went Nick Lachey picture hunting after Cincy put Iowa out of contention. Sorry guys, but he's just as good looking in person. And the coaches say he's a nice guy!

  • Most of the RCA Dome was holding its collective breath as Dee Brown took his first few shots. But you haven't heard cheering until you heard that place after Dee hit a couple threes. The rough patch seems to be over.

  • Not sure how it looked on TV, but the Farleigh Dickinson game felt close. They had nothing to lose and were playing to win. The anxiety in the air was palpable at halftime. Half of the fans stayed in their seats, wringing their hands and willing a better second half.

  • Illinois exhibited flashes of brilliance throughout the second half of the FDU game. For two 4-5 minute streaks, they seemed back to their "normal" rampaging selves. Then they let up and backslid a bit. We're hoping Weber can break them of this habit before next weekend -- they need to be playing to win and not to avoid losing.

  • Either out of a love for the underdog or jealousy of the Illini, Kentucky fans wholeheartedly were cheering for FDU to pull off the upset...which just led to the orange masses cheering for Cincinnati on Saturday night.

  • TV timeouts -- I'd never really thought about them until this trip. But they seemed to be popping up every couple minutes, and WOW did they influence the momentum of the games.

  • James Augustine. WOW. What can I say? Augie dominated on both ends of the court -- an amazing performance against Nevada's Nick Fazekas. I think Nevada's defense limited the guards a bit, but James (and Jack Ingram) did more than make up for it. They set the tone of the game. Here's to hoping he can maintain this standard of play throughout the rest of the tourney.

  • As for the rest of the game, let's just say the Illini got their groove back. It felt like they came to play again, and the crowd was loving it. Here are a few details from the Sun-Times.

  • Around when Illinois was up by 20 points in the second half of the Nevada game, I mused out loud that I wondered if Bill Self was sitting at home, watching the game and feeling a bit sorry for himself. Several fans around us laughed, but no one seemed to take much joy in it. At that point Saturday night, the Illini fans were thrilled with the team and coach they had.

  • Onto Allstate Arena and UW Milwuakee! Here's the Bruce Pearl grudge match round up from the Herald & Review's Mark Tupper. I was 11 when it happened, and I could care less. Let's just see them put up a W and another fine performance to build some momentum for that ticket to the Final Four.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Madness is about to begin...

Illinigirl finally has a few minutes to herself, so I thought I'd post about one of my favorite topics. My favorite time of year has arrived. The NCAA tournament begins in just over 48 hours with the play-in game in Dayton, OH. (I'm rooting for Oakland in that game btw. How can I not root for the team who took a timeout seconds into their game against Illinois to capture the Kodak moment of keeping pace with the #1 team in the nation?)

How did I get so obsessed with college basketball? I wish I knew. I grew up in a household that didn't care much about sports. However, I basically grew up in the shadow of U of Illinois, so any games that my household watched or attended were in Champaign. As I got older though, basketball was the one that held my attention. I remember during high-school my grandmother became quite a follower of the Illinois women's basketball team in the mid-1990s, and she got me started watching collegiate games. Once I met my husband (Peoria-born orange-and-blue basketball junkie that grew up envying Sergio McClain's abilities), I was a goner. Now, I watch every Illinois game and almost all other college basketball games I can find. In a few short days, Illinihubby and I will take to the road again and follow our favorite basketball team to post-season play at the RCA Dome. We'll be in the cheap seats (still have two mortgages people), but we're still thrilled to be going.

We have mixed feelings on the Chicago regional bracket. My husband seems to think that Illinois got a somewhat rough draw, as the #2 seed Oklahoma State could well have been a #1 seed. With a better performance in their league tourney, Arizona might have secured a #1 seed as well, and the once lauded abd undefeated Boston College rounds it out as a tough #4. Similar thoughts have been echoed today by Doyel over at CBS Sportsline. The fact of the matter is though -- with all cylinders firing, the Illini can outplay any team in the country. With even a few major cylinders firing, they will at least give any team a good fight as evidenced in the Wisconsin and Minnesota games this weekend. Overall though, all the regionals seem stacked with the possible exception of Albuquerque. As evidenced this weekend, there seems to be a lot of parity in college basketball right now.

Illinois seemed above that playing field until the last week or so, which has been somewhat disappointing. Watching that Ohio State game slip away, and the hopes of the perfect season disappear...that was disappointing. Work was like a funeral on Monday. We've had some really bad things happen to people that I work with lately, and rooting for Illinois had given us something to cheer about. But whether or not the one loss was a good thing...that remains to be seen. At the very least, it seems to have sent Dee Brown's play into a funk that we hope he can break out of against Farleigh Dickinson on Thursday.

The story of Bruce Weber's mom sudden passing over the weekend...that was quite a heartbreaker as well. You just looked at the faces of the players and knew how much they felt for Weber, how much they wanted to make his life easier and honor his mother with a Big Ten tournament win. That made the frustration on Dee Brown's face even more evident, even more palpable every time he missed a shot. The rest of the team got it done though. Luther Head came up huge, Deron played a solid game even if his shooting was not stellar. Roger Powell Jr. was going after every ball and making some great shots, and Augustine played like a beast and was rewarded with the tournament MVP award. The weekend wasn't inspiring ball, not everything was clicking. There was a feeling though that with a few slight adjustments, it could. It could be an inspiring story and a great trip through the tournament. All the ingredients of a truly inspiring story are here -- they just need to be mixed well and to heat up at the right moment. Here's to hoping that can happen this week.

Some other great coverage
Administrative notes

Things are starting to settle down a bit, and the family laptop is finally equipped with a functional wireless connection. Therefore, I hope that regular posting will resume in the next week or so. There may be a hiatus as I make the groupie trek to Indy Thurs-Sun this week, but after that I'm jumping back into the deep end. Thanks for stopping by and check back soon.