Blackhawks

Glenbrook North loses McAuliffe for 4-6 weeks

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Glenbrook North loses McAuliffe for 4-6 weeks

One day, Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber was lamenting about issues he has with a lack of depth on his 2011-12 basketball team. The next day, his star player, 6-foot-8 junior Andrew McAuliffe, suffered a knee injury. On Monday, Weber learned that McAuliffe will be sidelined from four to six weeks.

"He has a fractured patella. He won't be back until mid to late January. He'll miss 10-12 games, a big chunk of the season," Weber said. "We have to get through this stretch of games without him and it will be tough because we have to go to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"We have to totally change our whole offense, all that we have done up to this point. And everybody will have to step up. We have to get game experience and get guys off the bench to play."

Ironically, McAuliffe was injured during what Weber described as his best game of the year and his team's best game of the year. Despite suffering a knee injury, he scored 29 points and grabbed six rebounds in last Tuesday's 67-39 rout of Niles North.

"Then we played our worst game of the year," Weber said, referring to last Friday's 48-42 overtime loss to Deerfield. It was the first of several games that McAuliffe will miss.

Among the players who will be counted on to step up are 6-foot-5 senior Mark Johnson and 6-foot junior point guard Kurt Karis. Johnson scored 28 points against Niles North, then had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Deerfield. But Karis was befuddled and frustrated by Deerfield's box-and-one defense and never got untracked. It was a lesson he won't forget.

"We have to scrap more. We don't have the 6-8 presence that we had," Karis said. "We didn't make shots on Friday. And we were 5-for-13 from the free throw line. The defense packed in with a box-and-one on me. I scored only four points. It was very frustrating."

Afterward, aware that McAuliffe would miss some time, Karis texted all of his teammates. "We didn't play a good game. We have to work harder in practice. We have to work even harder and scrap harder. And I need to step up and be the player I can be, shoot more, be more confident," he said.

"One loss doesn't make a season. We need more balance. That loss shows how much harder we need to work. It is good that this happens to us early rather than later so it shows what we need to do."

Even before McAuliffe was injured, Weber complained about lack of depth. Three players already had left the program. Point guard Joe Prince moved back to California. Backup point guard Ethan Schmidt quit the team before the season began. And Cory Dolins transferred to Niles West.

Weber planned to build around McAuliffe, who was averaging 15 points and five rebounds and is being evaluated by Northwestern and other Division I schools, and Karis, who is averaging 13 points and four assists and was MVP of the Niles West Thanksgiving Tournament.

Without McAuliffe, he will count on Karis, Johnson, 6-foot-2 senior Mitchell Lev, 6-foot-1 senior Adam Chick and 6-foot-1 senior Trevor Ponticelli to fill the void. Johnson obviously got the message. He was averaging 10 points per game but scored 47 in his last two games.

They'll take a 6-1 record and debut their new lineup and revamped offense on Tuesday against Conant, then play Highland Park on Friday before meeting St. Patrick in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"This team will be very competitive throughout the season," Weber said before McAuliffe's injury. "We won't blowout a lot of people. We have to win a lot of close games. We won't score a lot of points. We don't hit a lot of three-point shots. We play slower than we're used to playing."

Like many kids growing up in Northbrook, Karis was inspired by the spectacular play of former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer. His brother was on Scheyer's state championship team.

"So I went to every game. My dad played basketball and pushed me to play. Watching the state championship team made me want to play for Glenbrook North," Karis said. "Scheyer was amazing to watch. It was incredible to see what he could do. His supporting cast knew their roles. It inspired me to play my heart out to be able to play on the varsity.

"I was in Peoria when they won the state title. My brother didn't play a minute in the final game but he was the happiest he ever was. He played the last minute of the semifinal and got fouled and made two free throws at the end. It was his great moment of glory."

Now Kurt faces a big challenge if his team is to advance on the state tournament trail. "I'm the quarterback out there. My major role is to distribute the ball. We have desire. All the seniors want to win. It's a hard thing to win a state title but we haven't had a big challenge yet to see if we are the real deal. Now we do. But we think we can do it," he said.

Meanwhile, Weber has his own challenges to deal with. In his 17th season, he has won 325 games and one state championship. But he has noticed how the game has evolved and he isn't sure it is for the better.

"The high school season isn't as important to these kids as before," he said. "They play so much outside the school. The main focus used to be high school. Now it is AAU. They are tired and worn out. They play so much AAU and go to personal trainers and weight training coaches. By 3:00 in the afternoon, when they come to our practice, they are exhausted.

"And parents are into it more than ever before. The parents now are more hands on. The kids go home and tell their parents everything that happened in the day. The Internet has changed parental involvement. They want to see success. It isn't as much fun as it used to, nowhere near as much fun as when a kid came to practice and was excited to wear a Glenbrook North jersey.

"The pride and passion of playing for your high school isn't there anymore. When we used to scout five to 10 years ago, we would be exhausted. Now you scout and it's pretty much all the same...drive to the rim, not a lot of set plays. High school basketball isn't as structured as it used to be. It's all about athleticism, stopping dribble penetration, who is more athletic and who can drive and penetrate and kick. You used to have to figure out plays but not anymore."

Coaching without McAuliffe in the lineup could be his biggest challenge of all.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

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USA TODAY

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.