Big Ten

Bulls get Boozer going in preseason win over T'Wolves

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Bulls get Boozer going in preseason win over T'Wolves

In a tune-up for the regular season, the Bulls (3-2) showed that theyre making progress as the real thing approaches, easily defeating the Timberwolves (3-2), 92-81, Friday night at the United Center, avenging last weeks loss in Minneapolis.

Playing in the fashion familiar to fans who saw them go 18-9 without Derrick Rose a year ago, the Bulls balanced play on both ends ensured they took another step toward being one of the leagues sleeper teams in the upcoming campaign.

Perhaps they were still smarting from last Saturdays defeat in Minneapolis, but the Bulls came out playing inspired basketball. With Rip Hamilton (15 points, five rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (24 points, nine rebounds, four assists) as the offensive focal points, and their usual stout defense leading the way, a 12-0 run early in the opening period set the tone for the hosts.

The visitors, sparked by fill-in starter Dante Cunningham All-Star Kevin Love was again sidelined against the Bulls; this time, as opposed to the two teams first meeting, its with a long-term injury, a broken right hand that will keep him out for six to eight weeks eventually got things going and trimmed the deficit as the frame waned on. Still, the Bulls, who were also aided by the unselfishness of Kirk Hinrich (eight assists) and scoring contributions of All-Star Luol Deng (14 points), claimed a 23-17 advantage at the conclusion of one quarter.

Backup center Nazr Mohammeds strong preseason play continued, helping the Bulls push their lead back to double digits, with Taj Gibson (12 points, 11 rebounds), second-year swingman Jimmy Butler and budding fan favorite Nate Robinson also helped the squads cause. Playing pressure defense, the Bulls got out into transition and converted fast-break opportunities, except when facing Minnesotas set defense, against which they used their size to be a factor on the offensive glass.

While Timberwolves shooting guard Brandon Roy ensured the gap didnt grow too large, Boozers scoring helped the Bulls keep their distance from their guests. At the intermission, the home team led, 50-35.

After the break, Boozer, Hamilton and Deng continued to be effective as scorers, but Hinrich also got into the act and despite battling first-half foul trouble, Joakim Noah made his presence felt on the boards. Minnesotas Andrei Kirkilenko like the aforementioned Roy, his fellow former All-Star, back in the NBA after a hiatus; Roy temporarily retired due to knee issues, while Kirilenko played professionally in his native Russia got it going for the visitors, though it wasnt enough to chip into the hosts comfortable winning margin.

Offensive execution remained at a high level for the Bulls and as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau filtered in his second-unit players, the selflessness of the team continued to be a strong suit, something thats a positive omen for a regular season in which the squads superstar and only player truly capable of creating a shot for himself or his teammates at will is on the shelf. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were ahead, 70-59.

Led by Gibsons inside play, the playmaking of Robinson, Mohammeds post presence and Deng providing stability, the Bulls again maintained their steady double-digit advantage at the outset of the fourth quarter.

Balanced play, solid overall defense and a strong rebounding effort on both ends of the floor, hallmarks throughout the game, persisted for the home team and seemingly wore down the visitors, though Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman inserted his reserves for the games stretch run, as opposed to his counterpart Thibodeau.

The starters minus Noah, as Thibodeau elected to leave Gibson, the lone holdover reserve from last season, in the contest at center began to salt the game away for the Bulls, as Boozers scoring and Gibsons interior presence were significant factors.

It wasn't perfect, as Thibodeau surely would agree with, but concerns about the sky falling with Rose out of the lineup continue to be allayed with every game.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”