Cubs

Strong finish lifts Illini past Georgia Tech

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Strong finish lifts Illini past Georgia Tech

A late flurry from Joseph Bertrand helped Illinois fend off a tough Georgia Tech team, 75-62 on Wednesday. The junior guard came off the bench to tie for the team lead in scoring with 15 points, 10 of which came in a 90 second barrage late in the second half.

No. 22 Illinois improved to 8-0 on the season, but head coach John Groce said the perfect start was a byproduct of hard work.

Everyday Im worried about tomorrowwere caught up in the process and the journey and we let the results come, Groce said. Our guys have been resilient. Weve been popped in the mouth and come back a few times.

Groce credited his team as a unit for the win, choosing not to highlight Bertrand alone for his spectacular play.

Everybody who played tonight made a play, or two, or more. Joseph was one of those guys, he said.

The game got going for Illinois with a steal by Tracy Abrams and an alley-oop to Nnanna Egwu. The Yellow Jackets never let the hosts slip away, and five minutes into the first half Georgia Techs interior presence began to cause problems.

The visitors got a fast break basket by Mfon Udofia and started to create better. They worked the ball inside and out to spread the Illinois zone, opening up three-point attempts and interior shots. The balanced offense helped the Jackets get D.J. Richardson into foul trouble and open a lead as high as six points.

Early in the game their transition really got us on our heels, Groce said.

The Illini would threaten with ten minutes left in the half thanks to a three by Bertrand, but Tech would gain separation again with a corresponding three from Marcus Georges-Hunt. With eight minutes left in the first half Georgia Tech was ahead, 29-25.

Three straight turnovers and two offensive fouls led to a scoring drought of more than four minutes for Illinois. The Yellow Jackets did not take full advantage, mustering just two points during the dry spell, giving Illinois a break.

Brandon Pauls three with four to play in the first pulled Illinois within three, 31-28, kick starting a rally. Abrams tied the game a minute later with an old-fashioned, and-one three-point play. At 1:20, Paul gave Illinois its first lead since 14:49 with a deep two, but a foul and two baskets by Kammeon Holsey tied the game again.

A Myke Henry three would put Illinois back on top and give them enough to carry a lead into halftime, 36-35. The Illini went into the half with an 18-13 advantage in rebounding, but the refs whistle did them no favors as the team tallied 11 fouls to Georgia Techs four.

After the break Illinois came out roaring on both sides of the ball. Richardson forced a jump ball on Georgia Techs first possession, then sank a three to open the scoring. Tyler Griffey followed that up with a three of his own and a steal. Off the steal, Griffey fed a streaking Richardson, who turned around to dump off to Paul for a slam, putting Illinois ahead 44-37 with just 1:30 elapsed in the second half.

Georgia Tech would follow the 8-2 Illinois run with a 13-6 stretch of their own, taking a lead midway through the half. A pair of threes from Chris Bolden helped the Yellow Jackets grab a 54-50 lead with just under ten minutes to play.

The gap remained four points for Illinois thanks, in part, to sloppy free throw shooting. Paul, Egwu and Sam McLaurin all had two missed free throws in the first 12 minutes of the second half. The Illini shot just 7-of-18 from the free throw line, with all but one of those made shots coming in the final two minutes.

Bertrand quickly made up for the free throw miscues and got the crowd at the Assembly Hall rocking.

The redshirt junior scored 10 points in 90 seconds to put the Illini in front for good.

Joe stepped up for us and that says a lot about his character, Paul said after the game.

His first basket came on a fast break from a Paul steal. He continued his run with a three and followed that with another after a block by Paul. The most impressive part of his run, was an acrobatic floater off his own steal. His hustle gave the Illini a 64-58 lead with less than five minutes to play.

Richardson followed up the outburst with a pair of threes, putting Illinois nine points ahead of the Yellow Jackets with two minutes left. Illinois finished the game on a 21-4 run to stay undefeated and secure a win in their first game as a ranked team this season.

Defense ignited offense at the end, Groce said. When we do that we can get out on a run.

Paul caught Bertrand late in the game with a few made free throws, finishing with 15 points of his own. Paul also led the team in rebounding, with seven. Griffey and Richardson were tied for second in scoring, with 14.

The win, the perfect start, a Challenge win none of that could slow Groces ambition for this team. He summed up his approach with the team by quoting Will Rogers: Even if youre on the right track, if you sit still youll get run over.

Practice tomorrow, according to Groce, will be about getting mentally and physically rejuvenated, then doing everything not to get run over.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?