While the game wasn’t as beautiful to behold as Monday’s slaughter over USC, Illinois had no problem beating Chaminade last night to advance to the Maui Invitational Championship Game. The Illini will face the Butler Bulldogs at 9PM tonight.
Since Chaminade is a DII team I wasn’t too worried about last night’s game, but the Silverswords did somehow manage to beat Texas. USC also beat Texas last night, so the moral of the story is that Texas might not be very good. Illinois pretty much controlled the entire game, and Chaminade never came within 10 points in the second half. The final score of 84-61 gives you a pretty accurate overview of what went on.
Monday night’s win over USC really belonged to D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams, and thankfully last night a few more guys got into the mix. Joseph Bertrand was the standout with 14 points and 6 rebounds, while Tyler Griffey contributed 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Paul and Richardson were both in double digits with 13 and 11 respectively.
Turnovers looked a lot better last night, with just 11 for the game, and only 1 for Abrams. The Illini shot nearly 50% and about 40% for 3′s.
It feels weird to say it, but it looks like we really are a perimeter team. It’s odd because this team isn’t really that different than last year, but the absence of Meyers Leonard has led to the guys shooting a lot more shots from behind the arc – and they’re actually making them. Maybe it’s the pace or maybe it’s an attitude adjustment, but shots are falling. The question is whether or not they will continue to do so.
Regardless, the team has been consistent. Sure, the game against Hawaii was a bit of an issue, but they fought hard and stayed in it. Even if the USC game was a bit more delightful, a lot of that action continued into last night’s Chaminade beating. Consistency has been a problem for Illinois basketball the last few years, and perhaps Coach Groce has figured out how to fix it.
Butler managed to get past Marquette on Monday with a buzzer-beating shot and No. 9 UNC last night with a more convincing 82-71 win (though I’m sure next week UNC will still be ranked). Butler seems a less scary prospect than either of those other teams, but clearly Butler is better than we all thought.
Regardless of the opponent, it feels amazing to just be in the championship game.
Playing Butler presents an interesting matchup for the Illini, especially considering the rumor that Butler coach Brad Stevens was offered the job, but turned it down pretty quickly. I hope that adds a little extra fire under the Illini butts tonight.
I think the Illini have a great chance to win tonight, especially if they continue to play like they have been the last few days. I’m a little worried about the fatigue factor, but thankfully Butler has played the same amount of games in the last few days. Also, having the game just a couple hours earlier is nice for everyone involved.
The game will be on at 9PM Central on ESPN.