Illinois-Chicago 57, Toledo 51, Or Day One Of The Re-Rebuilding Phase

I liked what Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk had to say after the game during his radio interview: when the sports information director hands him the stats for the season, he wants the first two games against Temple and Illinois thrown out, because they're not indicative of what this team should be doing. No, it's not fair to compare them to ranked teams right now. But to see how they do against such teams as UIC ... well, that's interesting.

No, they still can't beat them. But it was mighty close.

The Rockets never led, and they were tied for only about two minutes, but what here's what I saw: the Rockets, without their best players from last year's 4-28 squad, never trailed by double digits. They started four freshmen, but they hung around with the Flames to the point that they were a made free throw away from tying the game with 0:39 to play. They had a chance to tie with an errant 3-point shot with 19 seconds left on the clock. But in the end, the worn-and-beaten adage of "turnovers and free throws" plagued yet another young team. They weren't the first, they won't be the last. They had 17 turnovers and shot 13-of-23 on free throws. Are there seven points embedded within those mistakes? Without a doubt.

Their best plan of attack was dishing the ball to Hayden Humes, who snuck right to underneath the basket and finished with 12 points along with 10 rebounds. Michigan transfer Anthony Wright, who looked like a decent power forward, actually has a solid threeball and drained 4-of-7 from behind the line and had 15 points. J.T. Thomas might also be a flashy player someday, but his 10 points and four assists were accompanied by six turnovers.

But most importantly, Toledo was no match for UIC's mechanical BasketballBot Robo Kreps, who had 20 points in 38 minutes of play. Robo was one annoying bag of bolts and bits that really carried UIC during scoring droughts, and he didn't need much rest, since this is a limitation of carbon-based life forms. Hopefully other schools start recruiting robots for their bench ... or more families start naming their children Robo. All of them.

So here's what to take away from this game. Like Kowalczyk inferred, this is why the season's going to be tough. Many days they'll be overmatched. But it's refreshing to see that they're finding simple plays that work, and that the team is thoroughly enjoying the challenge of trying to win close games, rather than attempting not to lose by 30.

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