Key for Illinois: Contain Braxton Miller


Key for Illinois: Contain Braxton Miller

CHAMPAIGN Setting foot on the turf at The Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio can be an awe-inspiring moment. Luckily for Illinois, first-year head coach Tim Beckmans had that moment before.

In his career Beckman, has been on both sidelines at Ohio Stadium, first as cornerbacks coach at Ohio State and later as head coach at Toledo. The environment, he said, is always fantastic, but it will not distract him from the challenge at hand.

Been there, done it, was Beckmans response to questions about competing in the famed stadium. The Illini coach had much more to say about competing against his friend, Urban Meyer.

The two coaches met through a mutual friend while in college and continued to stay close as graduate assistants. Beckman would eventually become defensive coordinator during Meyers first head coaching stint at Bowling Green.

Beckman described Meyer as one of his close friends, but said the two have not communicated much since both took over Big Ten football teams last summer. He expects hell talk to his friend some before Saturdays clash, but the conversation will be minimal.

Were very, very competitiveright before the game I might say a couple of words to him, but we wont talk before the game other than that, Beckman said.

Beckman and the Illini will instead keep their focus on surprising the undefeated Buckeyes in search of their first win since September 15.

The key to surprising OSU will be containing sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller has led the OSU team to nine consecutive wins and the No. 6 ranking in this weeks Associated Press poll. He has been a dual threat, rushing for 1,093 yards (the fourth best single season mark in Big Ten history with three games remaining in OSUs season) and 12 touchdowns, while passing for another 1,527 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Coming from Toledo, however, Beckman has had plenty of chances to see just how good a player Miller can be, and he knows what to do to have a chance against the Buckeyes. He pinpointed containment of the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year as a key to being successful against OSU this week.

Braxton is a special player. He was fabulous at Wayne High School, Beckman said. Were going to need to know what hes doing at all times, hes very important to their offenseWere going to need to have awareness of where hes at and put pressure on him because he can beat you with his feet and his arm.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said his opposing number was vastly improved from last year to this year, and he expects a tough match-up on Saturday.

Hes gotten way better throwing the ball, especially downfieldand, obviously, running the ball hes one of the most dangerous players in the country, Scheelhaase said.

Tackle Akeem Spence echoed Scheelhaase, calling Miller one of the best. The soft-spoken junior was not overly anxious about the match-up, however. He said his team just had to perform like theyre capable.

Guys who have contain and guys who are assigned to him will have to get their job done and get him on the ground, Spence said.

Compared to the man he replaced, Terrelle Pryor, Spence says Miller is clearly a more talented player.

Hes a lot better than Pryor. He gets in the open field and he makes guys miss and hes one of the best in the conference as a sophomore, he said. Braxtons gonna make you miss, hes going to run you over hes going to do it all.

Despite all the talk of Miller and his ability to dominate the game, the Illini on hand Monday were calm and collected. Beckman and his players seemed ready to put in a hard week of practice and see what they can do against the Buckeyes this weekend.

You come to the University of Illinois to play Ohio State or Michigan, to play those tough games. For sure, you wont always be favored in those games, but thats why they play the game, Scheelhaase said.

Illinois notebook

-The injury situation for Illinois has become much more manageable since the bye week. Scheelhaase was roughed up late in the game against Indiana, but Beckman was confident his quarterback would be under center at OSU. Defensive back Steve Hull (shoulder) and running back Josh Ferguson (hip pointer), however, were still questions marks at Mondays press conference. The Illinois coach said he would have to wait and see how the two responded in practice this week before making a decision about playing this week.

-Tommy Davis is out as punt returner for the Illini. After another fumbled punt and a questionable no catch decision against the Hoosiers, the senior was pulled in favor of Darius Millines. Millines and Terry Hawthorne will take over punt return duties this week, with specific personnel decided on a play-by-play basis.

-Illinois must win their next four games to be bowl eligible this season. When asked about that scenario, Scheelhaase shrugged off the pressure. In my mind I dont look at it as you have to win out to get to a bowl game, its more of how can I get as good as possible to be a better player today to benefit my team.

-The friend who introduced Tim Beckman and Urban Meyer? Browns linebackers coach Bill Davis.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings


Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."