Hard work, confidence helps Tisdale win MVP



By Jeremy Werner

Robin Tisdale will soon be hanging a framed photo of the beach in her Riverton, Ill., home. No, she’s not filling the house with tropical decor to exude warmth throughout the house during the cold Illinois winter.

Rather, she’s hanging the South Padre Invitational MVP award – a picture of South Padre Island – won by her son, Illinois center Mike Tisdale, for a performance that led Illinois to its second South Padre Invitational win in four years last weekend.

Tisdale can also add Big Ten co-Player of the Week to his resume after a total of 32 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in Illinois’ two tournament victories. The 7-foot-1 center shares the award with Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore.

When he learned of the award, Tisdale said the conference accolade was “a pretty good thing” but that he is more concentrated on helping Illinois maintain its early season success.

“As a team, we played well,” Tisdale said. “I think everybody played together and played with a lot of heart. For me, I just gained more confidence which is key.”

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    Tisdale struggled out of the gate this season, converting on only 10 of 32 shots in the Illini’s first four games. The struggles took a toll on the sophomore, who could be seen shaking and dipping his head in frustration during his 1-of-7 performance during the Illini’s 72-53 victory against Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi on Nov. 16.

    But Tisdale looked like a completely different player in South Padre, Texas, making 13 of his 25 field goal attempts in two games. The timing of Tisdale’s field goals was even more important.

    The sophomore center scored 10 of Illinois’ last 15 points in a 69-63 overtime semifinal victory against Kent State, including the game-tying free throws in regulation and the Illini’s first three baskets in overtime. Tisdale followed up with another clutch performance against Tulsa, breaking a 44-all tie with a left-handed turnaround jumper with 1:13 left in regulation, and hitting another jumpshot with 22 seconds remaining to seal a 48-44 Illinois victory in the championship game.

    Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Tisdale still has progress to make, including gains in the weight room and losses in the turnover column. But he said the 7-footer may have turned the corner last weekend in gaining the confidence needed to maintain success.

    “One of the things I talked about was consistency and confidence with some of our kids. Although (Tisdale) is a good kid – he’s always around; he always wants to do well – I don’t think he’s the most confident,” Weber said.

    “I hope he uses this as a confidence builder that he not only can play at this level, but he can be successful.”

    Tisdale averaged 19 minutes in his first four games, but Weber rewarded the big man with games of 34 and 35 minutes in South Padre.

    Weber said Tisdale stepped up to the challenge, especially when guarding 7-foot-1 Tulsa center Jerome Jordan. Tisdale contained Jordan, a player projected to be a possible first-round NBA draft pick, and held him to 11 points.

    “He’s such a good kid, and he’s worked so hard,” Weber said of Tisdale. “It means so much for him. We’ve talked about it before, he’s always in the office, even (Sunday) before a short practice. The coaches are at Ubben at 3 or 4 (p.m.) and here Mike pops in a couple hours before practice, talking, watching film. He’s at the training table early, gets out and starts shooting. When a kid really cares and has success, you feel good about it.”

    Tisdale said the MVP honor is likely the best award he’s ever received. With more performances like last week’s, mother Robin may have more awards to hang in the Tisdale residence.

    “I’m hoping I can win some more,” Tisdale said.

    Honorable Mention

    Angela Bizzarri – Cross Country

    The junior led the women’s squad to a top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships and garnered All-American honors in the process. She finished sixth overall and ran the 6K race in a personal best time of 19 minutes, 59 seconds.

    Kylie McCulley – Volleyball

    The outside hitter led the Illini to wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern last weekend, and to a third-place regular season finish in the Big Ten. McCulley recorded 16 kills and nine digs against Northwestern, while hitting .542.