Bulls

Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

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Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

Ty Isaac's statistics for 2011 were mind-boggling: 2,114 yards rushing, 11.9 yards per carry, 45 touchdowns, 515 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries in the Class 5A championship game, Player of the Year.

What can the Joliet Catholic senior do for an encore?

"He is the best I've seen," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who ranks Isaac as the best running back and the No. 8 player in the class of 2013.

"He looks like Eric Dickerson. He is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Rashard Mendenhall."

"He is the best player I have coached, one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp.

"He has size, speed, tremendous footwork and the ability to break sharply, like Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson. He has an extra gear that you don't expect with someone his size. He was made to be a running back, like Secretariat was made to be a thoroughbred."

After playing second fiddle to Josh Ferguson as a freshman and running in the same backfield with Malin Jones as a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder is prepared to carry on a tradition of great running backs at Joliet Catholic and eager to accept the challenge.

"Finally, this is my team," Isaac said. "I feel I have been around here forever. It is the last opportunity we have to win a state championship. I have put in a lot of work for four years. I am stronger and faster (4.5) than last year at the same time. Now I will find out if it pays off.

"I'm just as versatile but I'm more equipped to carry the load. Mentally and physically, I'm ready to go. I was a glide-type of runner last year. But I was never set up to run in any way. How do I run? I never categorized my style, smooth or glide, as long as it is effective. It doesn't matter what they call it. I'm more confident going into this year. I have never been this excited about a season before."

Isaac insists he isn't concerned about repeating as Player of Year. "It isn't necessarily my goal. If you want to be Player of the Year, you don't have to think about it. My goal is to do what I can to help my team win. As far as Player of the Year, it comes down to who thinks is the best," he said.

This year, the leading candidates almost certainly are Isaac, Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Crete-Monee wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell and Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti.

Joliet Catholic, which will open against Providence in a nationally televised game on ESPNU on Aug. 24 in New Lenox, returns plenty of offensive punch with Isaac, quarterback Craig Slowik and wingback Tyler Reitz, who has been moved from fullback to Jones' spot. Tackle J.B. Butler will anchor the line.

Isaac has worked tirelessly during the spring and summer to prepare for his final season...one to two-hour workouts six days a week, no vacation, lifting weights three or four days a week, running, cardio-vascular work, footwork drills, body control, balance.

He didn't dwell too long on last year's 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A championship game. Oh, he admits it took a month to get it out of his mind completely. But he had other things on his mind, like recruiting and making sure the Montini experience doesn't happen again.

"There is nothing I can do about it so I was determined to get ready for next season so it doesn't happen again," he said. "My goal is to do better than last year. I had pretty big numbers last year but I can look at games where I left some things on the table. I can go get them this year. For example, in a few games, I can go back and say I missed out on 50 to 60 more yards or I didn't make a cut or I wasn't focused enough. It will be great to
have better numbers as long as we're winning."

His trip down the recruiting trail ended on May 15 when he chose Southern California over Michigan following his second visit to the Los Angeles campus. He was impressed by USC's history of great running backs and Heisman Trophy winners. But it wasn't the only reason for his decision.

"At spring practice, I saw the way they played with each other, how loose they were. It reminded me of myself. I wanted to play with guys like that," Isaac said. "I got a whole vibe of how they do things.

"Before I went there, I thought it was a flashy place and I wasn't sure how I'd like it. But I felt at home right away, the way they had everything set up, the tradition, how they want to carry it on. It reminded me of Joliet Catholic.

"Sure, the Heisman Trophies are the biggest thing behind the national championships. That is impressive but it isn't necessarily what you are looking for in a college program. I respect what they did. It was awesome that they were the best players at that time. But I couldn't relate to them. I want to put my own trophy there. As long as we win games, personal accolades will take care of themselves."

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."