Illini eke out win against EKU, remain undefeated

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Illini eke out win against EKU, remain undefeated

CHAMPAIGN Someone had to come away from Assembly Hall without a perfect record Sunday night, and Illinois refusal to let Eastern Kentucky be that team kept their perfect season in tact. The Illini finished the 2012 portion of their home schedule with a 66-53 win over the Colonels, improving to 12-0 on the season.
The win was anything but easy for No. 10 Illinois, as the team matched its season high with 20 turnovers. It was the will of the Illini that helped them overcome EKU (9-1), coach John Groce said.
I was really, really proud of our effort, he said after the game. We had great energy, we played with toughness, we had a nastiness about us on the defensive end for the full 40 minutesI thought it was great.
The hosts showed more urgency early in the game than in previous home contests, but EKUs effort to turn over the Illini kept them off-balance. The Illinois defense held up, however, and with five minutes gone Brandon Paul drove the lane and dished to Sam McLaurin, whose dunk put Illinois ahead, 9-3.
The defense was strong for Illinois all game. EKU came into the game shooting 49.5 percent from the field (13th in the nation), but the Illini limited it to 30 percent shooting in the first half. Illinois also won the rebounding battle (42-23) and came up with nine blocks, four from Nnanna Egwu.
Egwu was all over the place defensively. His stat line doesnt do him justicehe was really locked in, as were most of our guys, Groce said.
The Colonels 1-3-1 zone defense was also impressive on Sunday. EKU came into the game second in the nation at forcing turnovers and used that ability to keep Illinois from getting into a rhythm. The Illini were able to maintain a lead, but unable to crack the zone and pull away from the visitors.
Turnovers, particularly offensive fouls, became more troublesome for Illinois as the first half wore on. Midway through the first the Illini had racked up nine turnovers, three on offensive fouls. Those errors allowed EKU to close the gap, 17-15, with just under eight minutes remaining.
They got in passing lanes, they were man conscious and good at denying, Groce said about the Colonels. Thats what they do, thats what theyre good at.
Joseph Bertrand's contributions helped Illinois overcome the oppositions tough defense, however. With starting point guard Tracy Abrams forced to the bench with two fouls in the first half, Bertrand went 3-for-4 from the field, scoring seven points and grabbed six rebounds. His hard work kept Illinois in front at the break, 25-20.
Abrams came back after halftime and made a big impact. He started the half with a steal and a layup to get Illinois going. From there the team went on an 11-2 run to grab their biggest lead, 36-22 at 15:15.
Sloppy play by the Illini led to four quick turnovers, however, and the gap was cut under ten a minute-and-a-half later.
The Illinois lead would get as low as four, after Corey Walden converted an and-one opportunity, bringing the score to 42-38. On the next possession, however, Abrams gave Illinois some breathing room by hitting a three.
Abrams put his team on his back from there, making a string of big plays of his own. With five-and-a-half minutes to go the sophomore grabbed a rebound and ran the length of the court to drop in a layup. He followed that up with a steal and a 3 on the next possession putting Illinois up by 14 again, 54-40.
Tracey had a look in his eye after sitting in first, Groce said. The point guard said sitting didnt add motivation, though.
Last game I sat out with two fouls too, he said. You just gotta stay positive and be in to the game. You cant be selfish, just gotta be there for the team and be in to the game.
Despite Abrams outburst, the Illini could not get comfortable, as back-to-back 3's by Tarius Johnson and Glenn Cosey closed the gap to eight a minute later. A dunk from Paul and a 3 from Tyler Griffey did allow Illinois to be a little more at ease, bringing the score to 61-48 with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
A few empty possessions for EKU forced the Colonels to foul, giving Illinois even more breathing room. The Illini made five of six free throws in the final minute to see out the win. Paul led all Illini with 17 points. He came just one rebound shy of the double-double, grabbing nine boards. Abrams finished with 13 and Bertrand had 11 points. D.J. Richardson dished out a career-high seven assists in the win.
Despite their issues with turnovers, Illinois finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field, matching their best output of the season. Paul was not satisfied with the excellent shooting though, wanting to see his teammates continue to play consistent all around.
We can make the most shots in the world but if we dont guard were going to end up trading baskets anyway, the senior guard said.
With the win Groce becomes the first Illinois coach in more than 100 years to start his Illinois career with 12 straight wins. To ensure a perfect non-conference season, however, Groces team will have to win a pair of neutral site games to close out the calendar year.
Illinois is back in action next week to take on Missouri in the Braggin Rights game at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. The Illini will then head to the United Center on Dec. 29 to play Auburn.

Vinnie Hinostroza, rookies pace Blackhawks past Avalanche

Vinnie Hinostroza, rookies pace Blackhawks past Avalanche

DENVER – Vinnie Hinostroza scored twice in the third period as the Blackhawks overcame a lousy second period to beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-4 on Tuesday night.

Tanner Kero had two goals and an assist and Nick Schmaltz had a goal and an assist. Marian Hossa recorded his 600th and 601st career assists.

The Blackhawks trailed 4-3 heading into the third period. Hinostroza became a one-man show, scoring on a breakaway to tie it 4-4 and then scoring again 3:01 later for a 5-4 Blackhawks lead.

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Looking for a scoring spark, the Blackhawks altered their lines (except for the second one) entering tonight’s game. In the first period it looked like it worked for the fourth line. Schmaltz got his second goal of the season for a 1-0 lead. Matt Duchene tied it 1-1 before Brent Seabrook put the Blackhawks back up 2-1.

But midway through the second period things got very ugly for the Blackhawks. Blake Comeau scored off a Blackhawks turnover at the blue line to tie it 2-2 and just 63 seconds later Matt Nieto, following a Blackhawks failed clearing attempt, put the Avs up 3-2. Kero’s goal just 19 seconds after Nieto’s reversed momentum and tied the game 3-3. But about four minutes later Matt Duchene scored his second of the night for a 4-3 Avalanche lead.

Kero added his second goal, an empty netter, with 10.6 seconds remaining in regulation.

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

It was believed the Bulls needed no extra motivation going against a Dallas Mavericks team that's a half-game away from being worst in the Western Conference.

The Mavericks gave them a 25-point shellacking in Texas last month, giving the Bulls enough film to make a horror show. Usually these instances even out over 82 games.

But this is no ordinary season for the Bulls, and the Mavericks again emerged victorious when Wesley Matthews got free for a triple on one end and locked up his college teammate Jimmy Butler on the other end, leading to a 99-98 Mavericks win.

It looked like another Butler special when Butler nailed a step-up, contested jumper over Matthews to give the Bulls a 98-96 lead, completing his 24-point night.

But Matthews was undeterred, breaking free on the wing for a triple when Dwyane Wade had to help Nikola Mirotic on a Deron Williams drive with 11.7 seconds left.

And on the final possession, the Bulls' spacing looked gummed up when Butler couldn’t shake free of Matthews, forcing him to pitch it to Wade, who put up a heavily contested 21-foot jumper from the baseline

It caromed off the rim, and the Mavericks danced happily off the floor for their first three-game winning streak of the year, this win completing a season sweep of the Bulls.

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Butler scored 24 with 12 assists and nine rebounds but was 5-for-12 from the field as Matthews was in his chest all night. Wade had a strong fourth quarter on his 35th birthday but missed 13 of his 21 shots to score 17.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 and Seth Curry's 18 as the Mavericks made 11 triples and had 27 assists, frustrating the Bulls.

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 20 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn’t have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The Mavericks played tougher and smarter with their personnel, and the Bulls got to see what happens when Wade or Butler can't save the day.