Illinois rebounds with big win over Buckeyes

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Illinois rebounds with big win over Buckeyes

CHAMPAIGN On Saturday there were plenty of reminders of the game, nearly a year ago, when Brandon Pauls 43-point outburst helped beat Ohio State (then No. 5) in Champaign. Fans got a poster commemorating the guards career-best game in the Illini program, and observant fans might have even noticed the senior was wearing the shoes from his big night.

Saturdays clash between No. 8 Ohio State and No. 11 Illinois was not the Brandon Paul show, however.

There were a handful of telling stats from the most recent meeting of these two Big Ten behemoths including Pauls team-leading 19 points. None was as impressive as the Illini holding their opponent to less than 30 points for more than 28 minutes, though.

Illinois played hard-nosed basketball for all 40 minutes against the Buckeyes and came away with a 74-55 win. For coach John Groce the effort his team gave was everything he could ask for.

We knew it would take a great effort and wed have to be tough and together to win. We did that, he said after the win.

In their Big Ten opener at Purdue on Wednesday, the Illini (14-2, 1-1) had the holes in their game torn open and exposed to the world, leading many to question if their 12-0 start to the season had been a fluke. A team effort full of toughness, however, will change the story about Illinois.

Purdue was just disappointing because thats not who weve been, Groce said. You cant win the games weve won in the environments weve been in if youre soft.
The chip on Illinois shoulder after losing to Purdue was evident from the first possession of the game. The Bucks gave the ball up the first two times they had it and the hosts made them pay. The Illini ripped off a quick 5-0 lead thanks to a Tracy Abrams three pointer.

Early on, Abrams showed home fans more of the impressive form he displayed in the win over Auburn at the United Center on Dec. 29. In the first 10 minutes of play, he was a perfect 3-3 from the field, grabbed three rebounds and dished out four assists.

His fourth assist, a big alley-oop to Paul, put Illinois up by 10 and raised the volume inside the Assembly Hall to near-deafening levels. Paul called Abrams early effort crucial for the rest of the team.

When he comes out with that energy it picks up other guysit takes pressure off other guys, Paul said.

Abrams finished the game with 13 points, five assists and six rebounds.
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llinois continued to pull away from OSU thanks to another layup by Abrams, followed by a steal and layup from Joseph Bertrand to go ahead 25-11. But from 9:08 to 6:32 in the first, the Illini missed eight straight shots seven from behind the three-point line.

Defense kept Illinois in the lead, however, allowing OSU just a pair of free throws during the dry spell. The key to keeping a lead, according to center Nnanna Egwu, was staying calm.

It starts with coach Groce. He never panics, hes always level, he said. We feed off that.

Illinois calm helped them get back in the swing of the game, with an alley-oop from Paul to Bertrand jump-starting the offense. The hosts made four of their next five shots, including threes from Myke Henry and DJ Richardson. A steal by Egwu followed by a 12-foot jumper got Illinois to a 15-point lead with two minutes before half and had the fans in Champaign yelling again.

OSU would cut into Illinois lead a bit, but the home fans cheered the Illini to the locker room at halftime with a 37-25 lead.

The crowd continued to have good reason to cheer after the break, as the Illini started the half on an 11-2 tear to get to the 16-minute mark ahead 48-27. The next few minutes featured some sloppy play from both teams, but Illinois continued to hold off the Buckeyes; and, as the clock ticked below 12 minutes left in the game, OSU had still not cracked 30 points, trailing 53-29.

Deshaun Thomas, who scored a game-high 24 points, and the Bucks turned up their energy level and cut Illinois lead to less than 20 with 8:43 left. But the Illini continued to make it tough for the guests to develop any significant run. Egwu made the lead 20 again with a big dunk with 4:52 to play, he would finish the game with a career-high 16 points.

After the game, everyone was full of praise for Egwus performance. OSU coach Thad Matta said the Illinois big man was very, very good, and Groce hailed him for his devotion to the team.

He keeps getting better, and if theres ever a kid who deserves to get better it is him. He works his tail offI love him, the Illinois coach said about the Chicago native.

OSU would cut the lead below 20 again in the final seconds, but the final few minutes were but a formality for Illinois. The home team would finish off the Bucks with ease and even their Big Ten record win a win and a loss.

After being out-rebounded by 10 in the loss to Purdue, Illinois turned the tables, winning the battle on the glass by ten against OSU, 40-30. The Illini also improved in the paint, going from 18 points to 24 points in the paint on Saturday, and beat the Bucks in blocks, eight to one.

Matta laid the blame for the loss on his teams turnovers, however.

We were forced to hurry things instead of trying to do what we wanted to do, he said.

OSU came into the game outscoring opponents by 21 (77.6 to 56.5), out-rebounding opponents by eight (39.7 to 31.6) and shooting 46 percent from the floor. Illinois reversed all those numbers, most impressively holding the Buckeyes to just 33 percent shooting while making 48 percent of their own shots.

Unlike previous games, though, Illinois was not reliant upon the three point shot. The Illini took just 12 shots from behind the arc in the entire second half, taking twice as many shots from inside the arc during that time.

Groce was confident his team had learned lessons from the Purdue loss, which he said kept him awake on Thursday night. He credited their great play against Ohio State on hard practices Thursday and Friday. He said no game, not even an impressive win like the one his team pulled off on Saturday, would be a focal point for the Illini, though.

Each game is so differentwere not going to define our season by one game win or lose, Groce said. The guys responded at a high level against OSU. We have to enjoy this today, but we better be tough again on Wednesday.

The Illini host no. 9 Minnesota on Wednesday.

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2015-16 but they're optimistic that things can turn around for the upcoming season. Even though the Loyola roster is filled with newcomers, the Ramblers are hopeful that a summer trip to Spain can help give them a head start.

As part of the trip, Loyola will get 10 extra practices and four games against Spanish competition that will give the team some much-needed experience before practice officially begins in October.

Head coach Porter Moser is already happy about working with this group, which features some productive returnees and a lot of talented newcomers.

"We play four games over there. They get that feel of being coached in a game at this level with their teammates," Moser said. "So then when we start back up in October they have a sense of some of the things we're trying to teach, some of the things of what to expect. And I think that's such a big element."

On a team full of new players, it will be important for senior guard Milton Doyle to have a bounce-back year for Loyola after a disappointing junior campaign. A former star at Marshall, Doyle saw his shooting percentages dip last season as the Loyola coaching staff challenged him to improve for his final season of college basketball. 

Moser is happy with the strides that Doyle has made this summer as he's added over 10 pounds of muscle to now play at 192 pounds. Also committed on the defensive end of the floor and being a team leader, Doyle is the Ramblers' only senior this season, so he'll be counted on to be a productive presence.

"It's a lot this year just because we had four seniors leave last year and I'm the last senior," Doyle said. "So it's my job to make sure everyone stays on track and everyone is uplifted, even when coaches get on them. That's my job right now."

Junior wing Donte Ingram — a former Simeon product — and junior guard Ben Richardson also return as key contributors from last year's team while Iowa State transfer guard Clayton Custer is expected to come in and be a major factor in the team's backcourt rotation.

As for the newcomers, Moser compared juco transfer forward Aundre Jackson favorably to former Loyola forward Christian Thomas while Vlatko Granic gives the team a stretch option at forward that they didn't have in the past. The team's freshmen are also very talented as guard Matt Chastain has shown solid athleticism and a good basketball IQ through some early practices. 

Another freshman guard, Cameron Satterwhite, is coming off of a torn ACL that cost him his senior season, but the Loyola staff is optimistic about his recovery for this season. Croatian freshman guard Bruno Skokna is also recovering from injury as he has played against professionals in Europe the last few seasons on an amateur contract. He is expected to be cleared soon so that he can return to action this season.

"I love this group because it's a group full of gym rats. This is a really enthusiastic group," Moser said. "They've come together, we've got a lot of newcomers. That's the benefit, that's why we did the Spain trip this summer."

Loyola takes its trip to Spain from Aug. 12-22 as they'll hit cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the trip.

Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

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Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

Needing yet another men's basketball coach, Tennessee officials turned to the one person they thought would be perfect to take over the Volunteers program.

Pat Summitt said no.

She wasn't interested in the job in 1994 after Wade Houston was forced out, and she turned it down again when Jerry Green quit in March 2001. A Tennessee governor once joked he wouldn't have his job if Summitt ever wanted to run her home state.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the men's game, political office, that wasn't Summitt's motivation. She had the only job she ever really wanted.

"I want to keep doing the right things for women all the time," Summitt said in June 2011 after being inducted into her fifth Hall of Fame.

Summitt died Tuesday morning at age 64.

The woman who grew up playing basketball in a Tennessee barn loft against her brothers, and started coaching only a couple years after Title IX was invoked, spent her life working to make women's basketball the equal of the men's game. In the process, Patricia Sue Head

Summitt stood amongst the best coaches in any sport when she retired in April 2012 with more victories (1,098) than any other NCAA coach and second only to John Wooden with eight national championships.

Summitt used the sport and her demand for excellence to empower women and help them believe they can achieve anything, taking no backseat to anyone.

When I moved to Tennessee in 1976, girls played six-on-six, half-court basketball designed to protect them from getting hurt. Summitt, who took her Lady Vols to four AIAW Final Fours, refused to recruit Tennessee players. Tennessee high schools switched to five-on-five rules starting with the 1979-80 season.

The NCAA finally started running a national postseason tournament for the women in 1982. At the time, Summitt was known for having "corn-fed chicks" on her roster, big and strong but not talented enough to win national titles. After she won her first national title in 1987 in her eighth Final Four either in the AIAW or NCAA, she said, "Well, the monkey's off my back."

Back then only a student ID was needed to attend a women's game. And there was no demand for the results of those games. After graduating from Tennessee, I helped the sports writers by bringing notes from an NCAA Tournament game back to the office for someone else to write up. There was no urgency since there was no reader demand.

So Summitt worked to make it impossible to ignore her team or the women's game.

By January 1993, so many people wanted to watch then-No. 2 Tennessee visit top-ranked Vanderbilt that the contest became the first Southeastern Conference women's game to sell out in advance. With children under 6 allowed in free, having a ticket didn't guarantee getting through the door; at least 1,000 were turned away at the door - including Vanderbilt's chancellor.

The Lady Vols won 73-68, a game I covered in my first year as a sports writer for The Associated Press in Nashville.

"This was the biggest game in women's basketball, and that's what I've been waiting 19 years to see," Summitt said. "I'm glad I stayed around to see it."

Summitt scheduled opponents anywhere and everywhere, barnstorming the country to introduce people to women's basketball. Tennessee played Arizona State in 2000 in the first women's outdoor game played at then-Bank One Ballpark, drew the largest crowd ever to a regional championship in March 1998 when 14,848 packed Memorial Gym in Nashville with Tennessee trying to finish off the NCAA's first three-peat and helped Louisville set a Big East record christening the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

The Lady Vols became must-see TV in the sport as Summitt put the women's game on the national stage with six national titles in the span of 12 years.

I remember when I got real up-close look at what drove Summitt.

Assigned to cover Summitt as part of AP's annual college basketball preview package in the fall of 1998, I spent nearly 30 minutes with the coach in her office.

Door closed, Summitt gave a glimpse of that famous stay-away stare. With undivided attention now on me, she wanted to know if I had talked with her mother, Hazel, for the story. She then showed me the engaging side, laughing when asked about a stretch of play during the 1998 title game that resembled the Showtime Lakers, beaming while reflecting on how well her Lady Vols showed women could play the game.

The Lady Vols lost 69-63 to Duke that season in the East Regional. The next day I left a message at Summitt's house and late that afternoon, she called back to talk about more life lessons and basketball.

"It's a game, and winning and losing both can be great ways to teach kids how to get ready for the real world," said Summitt, who had to stop the interview because her mother had given son, Tyler, a gift. She explained he would have to save some of that cash before buying something for himself. Then she resumed the conversation about the game.

That was Pat Summitt: Hoops and family.

She held everyone to the exacting standards she learned from her father cutting tobacco and helping bale hay on the family farm. Tennessee and Connecticut was the biggest draw in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma and his Huskies handing Summitt her lone title game loss in 1995. But Summitt canceled the series in 2007 and refused to say why other than, "Geno knows."

Summitt ended a nine-year championship drought with her seventh national title in 2007 followed by the eighth in 2008. She became the first NCAA coach to win 1,000 games Feb. 5, 2009, and received a new contract that boosted her annual salary to $1.4 million - far removed from the $8,900 of her first season.

She never got to the 40th season in that contract, her career cruelly and prematurely ended by early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She finished 1,098-208 with 18 Final Fours, at the time tying the men of UCLA and North Carolina for the most by any college basketball program.

Not that numbers define Summitt, who once said, "Records are made to be broken."

Yes, all marks fade, but no one will eclipse Summitt's contributions to women's basketball.

Illini starting pitcher Cody Sedlock named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year

Illini starting pitcher Cody Sedlock named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year

University of Illinois starting pitcher Cody Sedlock was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday.

The junior from Sherrard, Ill., led the conference in strikeouts (116) and innings pitched (101.1).

He is the fifth Illini pitcher to take home the award, following Tyler Jay who was given the honor last year — and later went on to be picked No. 6 overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2015 MLB draft. It's the second time in program history that an Illini pitcher has won the award in back-to-back seasons.

The right-hander Sedlock is projected by many to be a first-round selection in the upcoming MLB draft on June 9.