‘Same old Illini’ causing headaches for coaches

By Jeremy Werner

When asked what he told his players after the Illini’s 74-67 loss to Purdue on Saturday, Bruce Weber replied: “I wasn’t very happy. I tried not to blow up, but I did a little.”

That’s an understatement.

Weber’s booming voice could be heard from within the Illini locker room as the press waited for him to speak in the media room.

Senior forward Brian Randle said it was the most disappointed he’s seen Weber in what has been a downright disappointing year.

“It was pretty emotional, pretty intense,” Randle said. “It was somber at times.”

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    After a half of basketball against Purdue, the Fighting Illini looked as if they were building off the momentum from their victory over Michigan.

    But the second half saw the Illini take a nosedive as the sum of the Illini’s faults this season all seemed to pile up: long scoreless droughts, turnovers, foul trouble and what is undoubtedly the team’s Achilles’ heal – free throws.

    The Orange and Blue led 40-31 four minutes into the second half but struggled to get anything going offensively from that point as the Boilermakers rattled off a 20-3 run to take the lead that they never relinquished.

    One of the keys to Purdue’s run was a rash of turnovers. The Illini committed 15 turnovers in the second half – a season-high 21 for the game – limiting them to 24 field-goal attempts in the half.

    But once again, the biggest killer to the Illini’s dreams of consecutive Big Ten victories was free throws.

    The Illini shot 10-of-21 from the line – 8-of-17 in the second half. Mike Tisdale missed two free throws with the score 60-57 late in the second half. Needless to say, if the Illini had made a half of their misses – putting them at a seemingly normal 71 percent for the game – the last two minutes of the game would have been much different.

    There was a feeling in the arena once the Boilermakers started their devastating run of, “Here we go again. It’s the same old Illini.”

    As frustrating as it is for Illini fans and even non-Illini fans to see such self-destruction repeatedly, Bruce Weber is on the verge of exploding.

    It’s a surprise that it took Bruce this long to let it all out. His increased pacing on the sideline, red-faced encounters with referees and looks of bewilderment at another offensive set in which the Illini cannot seem to find an open shot in 35 seconds, points to a man that is just downright out of ideas.

    Weber has tried everything in the book this year. Many say the Illini need to practice free throws more. You think Weber hasn’t thought of this yet? On top of the hundreds of free throws they shoot in a week, Weber had his players work with weighted basketballs, run for missed free throws and come in extra time just to shoot free throws, and has even taken advice from others.

    Some are quick to put Bruce Weber on the hot seat as a result of the Illini’s worst start in a decade. But he is getting the best out of his limited talent pool. It’s time for these players to step up. Losses like yesterday have come from a lack of confidence and mental lapses.

    Weber is the one bringing in the talent, but having the Big Ten’s leading scorer give him a strong verbal commitment then back out limited whom he could recruit in reaction. The players are coming – albeit, not for two years – but this team is talented enough to win more than one out of six Big Ten games. Seniors Randle and Shaun Pruitt are finally putting together solid games, but it has not been enough. They need to be leaders and shoulder the weight of this frustrated team.

    If they can’t, Big Ten teams may have to start bolting down everything in the visiting locker rooms when Weber visits, or at least soundproof them because it may be too much frustration to handle.

    Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].