Game 25: Oakland (16-8, 11-0) at WIU (7-14, 2-8)
Thursday, February 3, 2011 | 8:00pm EST
Oakland gears up for its closest two-game road trip in conference play with stops in Illinois and Indiana. Western Illinois, the first opponent, has struggled mightily this season but does own a conference home win over North Dakota State. At this point, the Leathernecks are fighting for a victory or two down the stretch in hopes of making the field of eight for the conference tournament. Oakland continues to roll in conference play to the tune of an 11-0 record and will be looking to dispatch of WIU to get off to a positive start on the trip.
Not According To The Plan
It wasn't supposed to be this bad for Coach Jim Molinari in 2010-11. After missing the conference tournament in his first season, he led his squad to Sioux Falls last season as the seventh seed. That was thought to be the first step toward bigger things in Macomb, Illinois, but things just haven't gone according to plan, dating back to the summer when post presence James Granstra decided not to return to the team for his senior season. Then several key contributors were injured as the non-conference season rolled on, and the team has been without All-League selection Ceola Clark since early December. To put into perspective how devastating of a loss that has been, consider that when Coach Molinari was asked what Clark meant to his team prior to the season beginning, he responded, "That I can feed my kids." There is still time left for the Leathernecks to get a few wins, but there is reason to believe this has been a lost season for Molinari and Company.
Key Personnel Match-Up
Reggie Hamilton vs. Matt Lander
I'm still not entirely sure why Matt Lander didn't play in the second half of the Oakland-WIU game earlier this season, but that remains the only instance all year where the senior guard did not score in double figures. That's a fact that is all the more interesting when one considers he is averaging 15.2 points in conference games. Lander will get a test when he matches up with Reggie Hamilton, a proficient scorer himself. However, Lander has been very weak from beyond the arc this conference season, shooting just 28.6% there. Reggie has the advantage in that department, but Lander is good at taking the ball to the basket and draws a lot of fouls as a result. In fact, the only players who have been to the line more than him in league play are Keith Benson, Jay Cousinard, Alex Young, and Maxx Nakwaasah - pretty good company.
WIU Player To Watch: Kaimarr Price
Kaimarr Price has been a solid addition to the Leatherneck stable this season as a junior college transfer. At 6-foot-8, he's the tallest regular contributor on the team which makes him a bit undersized against some of the more imposing frontcourts. It is a shame that he hasn't had David Gebru (a 6'10 sophomore) to help him out in the paint as it could have opened him up for more looks, but alas, like most of the team, Gebru was lost for the season with an injury. Still, Price is averaging about 7 rebounds per game in league play and gets to the line at a respectable rate. He's a pretty atrocious shooter from the field (36.4% in conference games) which is hard to figure out since he typically plays close to the basket. His best game was against Oakland at the O'rena earlier this season when he dropped 17 points on 8-of-17 shooting, by far the most attempts he's had all season.
Oakland Player To Watch: Ilija Milutinovic
Ilija Milutinovic has played at least 20 minutes in four games this season, the last one coming in early January against Western Illinois. Since then he's struggled to see the floor as Oakland has faced a number of contenders in recent weeks. Keith Benson and Will Hudson will likely play major minutes as always unless they get into foul trouble, but Ilija is due for some minutes soon. He's been solid in short appearances as of late, limiting his turnovers and personal fouls, but hasn't had enough touches to shoot the ball. Ilija will be an important cog in one of the games down the stretch here.
Oakland has a rather impressive history against Western Illinois at Western Hall. Since the 1999-2000 season, the Golden Grizzlies are 10-1 in Macomb, Illinois. The lone setback came back in February of 2001.
This week's must read comes from Dan Fenner of The Oakland Post, OU's student newspaper. He has a feature about Drew Valentine's growth throughout the season. Check it out here. Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press also checks in with the latest edition of his weekly Grizz Talk show featuring an interview with Greg Kampe. You can watch that here.
As always, if you're interested in getting in on the conversation with other Oakland fans before, during, and after the game, we highly suggest checking out the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum: Game Thread.