Bulls

Illini not defeated by dismal record

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Illini not defeated by dismal record

CHAMPAIGN After seeing their chances of making a third straight bowl game disappear with a 30-point loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini (2-7, 0-5) have every right to be disappointed. In fact, the Illinois coaches and players could be forgiven for having a lackluster attitude, or a general reluctance to talk about their struggles this season.But thats not how Tim Beckmans team operates.
Instead of letting their plight dictate their demeanor, each member of the Illinois football team gathered for Mondays press conference exhibited a positive attitude and an eagerness to show improvement before the end of the season. Improvement was key for Beckman, the Illinois coach, and he made no excuses for his teams mistakes.
When you play undefeated teams, you cant not score when you get the opportunity in the red zone. You have to do more than just kick field goals and you have to play 60 minutes of football, he said. I was proud of the way our kids continued to play with OSU but it wasnt good enough.
Beckman went on to say it was incumbent on his team to show growth in these last three games of the season and learn from their mistakes. Though the opportunity to compete in a bowl game is no longer an option for Illinois, there is still the opportunity to end the season on a positive note.
For quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, not being able to play for a bowl berth means focusing on what he says should be a daily goal for all Illini.
Obviously we didnt reach our goals, but in a sense this should refocus us on what should be our goal every day: just going out and getting better performing to the best of our abilities, he said. We still can end the season on a positive note. We still can go out and win some games.
This Saturday the Illini get a chance to pick up a win with a return to Champaign for a Dads Day contest with Minnesota (5-4, 1-4). The Golden Gophers started the season with a flurry of wins but have cooled down since starting Big Ten play, beating only a winless Purdue team in five conference games.
Beckman has experience against Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill from their time as Mid-American Conference coaches (Beckman at Toledo and Kill at Northern Illinois). He described the Gophers as a typical Jerry Kill team: the kind of team that fights for everything and earns every success they have.
You see them get better and better each week. Theyre very competitive, Beckman said. Their defense is very aggressive and offensively theyre playing with a quarterback Philip Nelson that has taken over for them.
Senior defensive back Ashante Williams, who returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown in the OSU game, said Minnesota was a better team than he has seen in years past. He called them explosive, specifically comparing quarterback-turned-wide receiver Marquis Gray to the Buckeyes Braxton Miller.
Its going to be a challenge for the defense again this weekMarquis is the kind of guy who, when you get the ball in his hands in the open field, can make guys miss and create big plays, Williams said.
The Gophers feature several other playmakers, but Williams said their offense did not differ too much from other spread teams Illinois has faced this year. He expects the game to be played fast, but not to get out of Illinois hands.
The Illini at Mondays press conference all felt as though this weekends game and the teams two games afterward were important, and, more importantly, were winnable. The Illini avoided seeming despondent or as if the upcoming games were nothing more than necessary.
Beckman summed everything up nicely when he pointed out all of the various parties this team still has to play for, including some of the guests of honor at this weeks game. We want to win in the worst way. We want to win for our dads, for veterans, for Illini nation we want to win for ourselves.
Illinois and Minnesota will kick off Saturday at 2:42 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Illinois Notebook
-- Beckman chuckled when asked how he felt about his former team, Toledo, cracking the top 25 in the BCS, Associated Press and USA Today polls this week, the year after his departure.
Figures, he said with a short laugh. Those are my boys, my sons. Those kids playing there are now are a part of what were trying to get established now at Illinois. I cant be more proud of them, and Ill tell them to keep working to win.
-- The injury status of linebacker Jonathan Brown, a Butkus award semifinalist, is still uncertain. The junior was taken off the field in the first quarter of the OSU game and did not return to play. Beckman said Brown would see a doctor later on Monday and only afterward would his status be determined for this Saturday.
-- Running back Josh Ferguson, who is second on the team in yards per reception, should be able to play this week after sitting out two games to injury. Beckman said the freshman participated in lifting last week and ran with the team on Sunday. He said hes optimistic Ferguson would be 100 percent by Saturday.

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson only played one season together with the Bulls. But oh, what a memorable campaign it was.

And it produced a friendship that still lasts to this day. Cupcakes and snacks will do just that.

Boozer retold a story to NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday of Robinson and his daughter, Navyi, baking cupcakes for Bulls players on road trips.

"We had so much fun. Me and Nate hit it off right away," Boozer said. "We're both very animated, we're both very loud, we talk a lot, we're great teammates. We love playing passionately, we compete.

"Nate is one of the best teammates I ever had. I played my whole life, I've been playing a long time and he's the only teammate that would bring snacks to every flight. And we'd travel on the road, he would bake us cupcakes for every road game. I never had that before.

"Him and his daughter, Navyi, would bake the cupcakes before every road game. So every road game we'd get to the plane and Nate would hook us up with cupcakes.

"Just a great teammate. He'd go through a brick wall for you, never complained, practice every day, play every day, ready to come and give it his best."

Boozer and Robinson will face off against each other during the Big3 Tournament, which begins this weekend in Houston. The league will travel to Chicago and the United Center on June 29.

"I'm looking forward to being in Chicago," Boozer said. "We've got a lot of great fans out there. I miss the (United Center), miss that Chicagotime summer weather and looking forward to getting back out there in a couple weeks."

Boozer's Ghost Ballers and Robinson's Tri-State team won't square off against one another until Week 5 in Miami. But it's sure to be a fun matchup for the two friends and snack buddies.

"He's one of my brothers, one of my closest friends," Boozer said. "Nate has been training like an animal and he's gonna use this platform to show everybody how much skills he has, also to get back into the NBA. Nate's a great talent and I'm looking forward to seeing him get down."

Boozer's team includes co-captains Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis, which gives them a pretty solid trio heading into the event. But no teammate, NBA or Big3, can match Nate Rob and his cupcakes.

Check out more on the Big3 right here.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”