Just Keep Fighting
I have no idea how we were in this game. I have no idea how, if we had grabbed that defensive rebound with 27 seconds left, we would have held the ball for the last shot, either to tie or to win (you know it would have been a Trent three). Yet somehow, this game was that close.
I'll start with a list of things from the box score. We've had many box score discussions this season, each time looking at this whole "generate more shots" thing. If Tom Izzo tries to win games with offensive rebounds, Brad Underwood tries to win games with turnovers. Grab ten more turnovers than your opponent and then you're theoretically putting up ten more shots than they are and when you put up ten more shots you can miss more and still win. So each time a new box score comes out, I look for the turnover totals and the shot totals (and look to see how they're balanced out by things like free throws and rebounds). Here's the list from last night:
- We turned the ball over 13 times, Wisconsin only 12.
- As a result, Wisconsin put up 55 shots, Illinois 56 (the 56th being Andres Feliz's attempted layup at the buzzer after the game was over).
- Wisconsin shot 40% for the game, Illinois shot 37.5%. They were 5-18 from three, we were 6-19.
- Wisconsin shot way more free throws - they were 15-23 from the line, we were 10-11.
- We had way more fouls called on us (21-14).
- They won the rebounding battle 40-33.
When I look at all of that, I see a 12-15 point loss on the road. If we're not creating turnovers, and if they're going to the line while we're not, we're taken out of our game and are going to lose. Yet we needed one defensive rebound of a missed Wisconsin three with 27 seconds left to have the ball, shot clock off, with a chance to tie (with a two) or win (with a three). Giorgi boxed out Iverson, Reuvers came in from the other side of the basket for the putback, ballgame.
But I seriously don't know how we stayed in that game. I went into this one with a general feeling of "win the turnover battle and keep the fouls close or we have no shot in the Kohl Center". We didn't win the turnover battle and we didn't keep the fouls close and we just needed one rebound to try to force overtime (or go for the win).
I mean, once Wisconsin finally took the lead in the second half, how many times did they push it to a five or six point lead and we all thought "OK, we've seen this play a dozen times" and then we'd suddenly fight back to tie the game? I'm so used to seeing us fold in that scenario the last 12 years that I don't know what to do when we fight back. Other than, you know, cheer.
I think that's my takeaway from this game. Statistically, we didn't do the things we needed to do to stay in the game. Which is understandable, given that we're still a 10-15 team going on the road to play #22 (a team we haven't beaten in a long time). Yet instead of fade into the same 12-15 point loss we've seen so many times over the last 12 seasons, we found other ways to fight back and keep it close (shoot 91% at the line, 4 blocks, make one more three than they do). And when you keep fighting like that, you're a rebound away from having a chance to tie or win at the buzzer on the road against #22.
As I tweeted immediately after the game, there's really nothing to be upset about after this one. I could point to individual plays here and there, I guess, but in a game where Vegas says we'll lose by 11, in a season where we're 10-15 going on the road to play a ranked opponenet, we led for 21 minutes of the game and were right there with 30 seconds left, down two, forcing a long three, just needing the rebound. I feel pretty good about all of that.
Just keep fighting. Just keep showing us this team. A team led by a sophomore and two freshmen who seemingly can hang with any team in the country at this point. More of this, please. For the next 12 years.
+ I think we have to tip our cap to Khalil Iverson. He mostly gave Wisconsin nothing over his four years and mostly frustrated their fanbase with his "he can jump but can he do anything else?" brand of basketeball (at least according to my one Wisconsin friend). But in this game he was the difference.
Take away his putback at the halftime buzzer and it's a different game. A 50-something percent free throw shooter makes six of eight. His block of Giorgi when we were going to tie the game with three minutes remaining was massive (easily the play of the game). His nine rebounds were huge.
Iverson has averaged 4.9 points per game over his four years in Madison - basically, he's given them what De La Rosa is giving us this year. So Wisconsin fans have to be over the moon with this performance. Remember how Mark Alstork broke out and scored 19 at Ohio State last season (after scuffling most of the season)? That's how Wisconsin fans feel about this one. A guy who has only hit double figures twice all season (10 against Western Kentucky, 12 in Champaign) wins the game with 16 and 9. I hate it, but, tip your cap.
+ While I have the boxscore open, I still have no idea how we were in this game.
- Trent was 3-10 with 8 points.
- Ayo was 4-15 with 13 points.
- Feliz was 1-6 with 4 points.
How are we down two with 30 seconds left in a game where our three guard rotation goes 8-31? And it wasn't just them - Giorgi had a rough game, only scoring 10 with five turnovers. How was this even close? ,
+ It's amazing how this continues to drift towards the 2018 recruiting class. With each game, a little less Kipper and a little more Griffin and Jones. Feliz has continued to take up more and more minutes, especially late in the game. The team, right now, is basically Trent, Da'Monte, and AJ + the recruiting class. And it feels like there's a tiny bit less Trent, Da'Monte, and AJ each game and a tiny bit more 2018 class.
Take Alan Griffin. That drive and lay-in was what we've wanted to see Jordan do with that play all season, right? Jordan still gives us way more than Griffin, so I'm not suggesting Griffin replace Jordan's minutes or anything, but these little glimpses of the future are encouraging, right? Just that Griffin drive (plus that Jones drive where he scored high off the glass) - those are our glimpses of where this thing is headed.
+ Let's check back in on my "expectations" post. I was a little greedy (I thought) wanting a 5-4 finish. Here's the last nine games:
Michigan State (W)
@Ohio State (W)
I'm greedier now - now I want a 6-3 finish - but I think I'm still holding to 5-4 as a baseline. Win two of the three home games at a minimum, hopefully all three. And after last night (and Ohio State), you have to feel good about winning one of the road games. OK FINE GIVE ME A 7-2 FINISH.
But really, just keep fighting. Just keep showing us the team we're going to be. I'm having fun.