Who wants to step up, be ‘special’?

By Lucas Deal

On Wednesday night, the Illinois basketball team moved above .500 in the Big Ten standings for the first time all season.

The Illini rolled over a struggling Northwestern team 58-43 in Evanston to improve to 18-8 overall and 6-5 in the conference heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 24 Indiana.

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After the game, Illini head coach Bruce Weber was adamant in telling the media that despite his team’s easy win, the Illini would have to play much better to have a chance to win in Bloomington, Ind.

In fact, Weber said his team would have to be even better than just good to win.

The way he sees it, at least one player, if not the entire team, will have to be “special.” Essentially, somebody will have to go off to give the Illini a chance.

Illinois has had strong offensive balance all season. Seven different players have led the team in scoring and eight have recorded double-digit scoring games.

However, because the Illini have played so unselfishly, no individual player has stepped up and taken the reins as the team’s go-to scorer. The team has no clear No. 1 threat.

Tomorrow though, Weber thinks, and I happen to agree, the Illini are going to need one.

Somebody is going to have to take the team on his shoulders and be the guy who wills them to what could be a signature win.

Just last Wednesday, Indiana received its own signature win when they knocked off then-No. 2 Wisconsin at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. The Hoosiers were led by 20 points from sixth man A.J. Ratliff, who went off in the second half and single-handedly carried the Hoosiers offense over the Badgers 71-66.

That’s what Weber wants, it’s just a matter of wondering who is going to be the guy to step up and do it.

I’d like to nominate Rich McBride.

For nearly four years, Illini fans, reporters and even coaches have waned over the potential of the senior McBride.

His high school legend has loomed over his college career and the critics have been merciless.

When he was charged with a DUI and missed the first four games of the season in November, columns popped up everywhere questioning his motives and if his goals were really in the right place.

The criticism continued throughout December as McBride struggled to find his shooting touch and the Illini stumbled to a pair of losses.

McBride’s season hits its low around New Year’s, when more bad shooting led to ugly games against Xavier (0 pts) and Michigan (3 pts.)

But then, just when things didn’t look like they would ever turn around, something happened. McBride went off.

Since a 15-point outburst against Iowa on Jan. 10, McBride has hit 42.1 percent of his three-pointers (32 of 76) and is averaging 12.8 points per game.

Along with center Shaun Pruitt, McBride has been Illinois’ most consistent player in the Big Ten.

Against Northwestern, McBride hit 5 of 11 three-pointers, dished out a season-high six assists and had no turnovers, all while holding Northwestern’s leading scorer to nine points in the Illini win.

“Rich is doing everything (right now),” Weber said. “He’s playing like a senior should.”

And I see no reason why it can’t continue.

So I say: Go for it Rich, play your butt off and be the player you know you can be.

But most importantly, make the critics go away.

Come on kid, you’ve earned it.

Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at

[email protected]