Illini offense shows improvement in loss

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Illini offense shows improvement in loss

CHAMPAIGN Its easy to play the what if game after aloss like Illinois 31-17 defeat at the hands of Indiana on Saturday.

What if Illinois had not committed two personal fouls?

What if the Illini had recovered those two turnovers,instead of the Hoosiers?

Things like that make you look snake bit, Illinoisoffensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. You cant have turnovers andpenalties keep drives going. Those things are the difference between good teamsand teams trying to get to that level.

Certainly, the game would have been much different if thingshad broken Illinois way more frequently. But the news from Memorial Stadium onSaturday was not all bad.

After one half of play Illinois had 14 first downs doubletheir output in the entire Michigan game. Illinois finished the game with 196yards rushing a new season-high. Sophomore running back Donovonn Young had125 yards on 21 rushes besting his previous career best by 25 yards. DariusMillines had five catches for 80 yards a season best by 26 yards.

Of course, these accomplishments were hard to focus on inthe face of a homecoming loss (and Indianas first road Big Ten win in fouryears). But, mired in a disheartening stretch of five consecutive losses, thepositive offensive output is proof these Illini have the ability to compete inthe Big Ten conference.

We have a lot of young guys on the team and those guys aregetting better every week, Beatty said. At some point those freshmen arejuniors and will be older, as opposed to always being the young team. Thoseguys are getting better and we have to keep developing them.

Prior to the Indiana game, the Illinois coaching staff sawweaknesses in the Hoosiers run defense they felt they could exploit. TheIllini went hard after their opponent early in the game and found success:after the first quarter Illinois had already racked up 74 yards on the ground.

Young made a statement after Illinois loss to Wisconsinthat he wanted to see the running backs getting more touches. On Saturday hegot his wish and made the most of it. He felt good about the teams runningplay as a whole after the game, and believes it can lead to better things downthe road.

We got the ball in the right peoples hands and we movedthe ball. The offensive production looked a lot better than in past weeks, thesophomore running back said. I feel like this is a great stepping stone forus. We see that we can move the ball, so definitely we will come back and workhard.

Illinois early rushing success allowed the team to lookdownfield, as well, with the primary beneficiary being Millines. The juniorcredited his running backs for allowing him to get space to make catches.

The run game was great, and I was doing my best to findareas where I could see Nate Scheelhaase, quarterback and I knew he could seeme, Millines said.

Scheelhaase ended up throwing for 176 yards and onetouchdown, complementing the teams impressive run game. Illinois outgainedIndiana in both rushing and passing.

Still, being unable to match Indiana on the scoreboard stungthe Illini deeply especially on homecoming.

This is very frustrating, Millines said. But werestaying together. Wins are going to come if we just keep fighting. We need tostay together and keep fighting.

If Illinois can continue to produce offensive like they didagainst Indiana, it stand to reason wins will come for the team. But, successis not an overnight phenomenon according to head coach Tim Beckman.

You want success to happen fast, just like everybodyelse. You want to be successful as fast as you possibly can, but right now,were not, Beckman said. Weve got to evaluate things againand create thingsthat can help our players be successful and this program be successful.

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Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 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.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

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

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."