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Thursday, December 9, 2010
Illinois brought its women's ball, too

By Eamonn Brennan

Tuesday night, amid all the Missouri-Vanderbilt fun, the Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine informed the world of an unbelievably strange occurrence at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., the type of thing that makes you stop right in your Twitter tracks. Hine tweeted the following:
This could be a reason for the bad shooting, it appears they may have been using a women's ball for the first 7:22. ... They took that ball out of the game and put in a new one.

Wait ... what?

How does this happen? For one, how do the referees pick up the ball and not feel the difference in size and weight? Anyone who's ever touched a women's basketball knows how small it feels relative to the men's regulation size. It's immediately noticeable.

And then, when the game starts and the players notice something feels wrong with the ball, how do none of them say anything or do anything about it? How does that ball stay on the court for seven minutes?

Turns out, there is a reason. Bruce Weber didn't believe his players' complaints:
Illinois coach Bruce Weber did his best Robert Stack impression to explain the unsolved mystery and said the ball was on a game-ball rack from a recent women's game at Assembly Hall. Somebody grabbed it off the rack.

"Our kids said something right away, but I said 'You guys are just missing shots, shut up and play,' " Weber said.

"I wanted to keep it. We were ahead," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. [...]

"I never had that happen before," senior guard Demetri McCamey said. "I don't even know what to say about that. It felt like a Nerf ball."

During the first 7:22, when the women's ball was in play, Illinois missed its first five 3-pointers. Oakland went on an early 15-4 run and took a 28-24 lead into the half, but a large portion of the first half was played with a men's ball, so the switch wasn't an immediate cure-all for the Illini. The Golden Grizzlies were genuinely outplaying Weber's team. (And hey, both teams have to play with the same ball, right?)

Still, the Illini found their shooting touch in the second half -- it helps when you play with a regulation basketball, huh? -- and eventually won the game 74-63. Illinois got a win, Oakland got an impressive road nonconference performance, and we got one of the stranger college hoops stories of recent years. And, if as many NBA marketing executives read this blog as I hope (hint: they don't), a potential Wacky Basketball Night NBA promotion at your local struggling franchise. Hornets fans, on your feet! Which ball will the refs choose today? So zany!