The Illini basketball team is wrapping up a 4-game series with Gonzaga that has given us some pretty exciting action.
Set up originally by good friends Bruce Weber and Mark Few...the series wraps up later tonight with John Groce and the Illini making their first visit to the 6,000 seat Kennel on the Gonzaga University campus.
The previous 3 games between the Illini and the Zags have been fan-friendly. The first meeting in this series was in Chicago and was a back and forth thriller that saw Gonzaga roar out to a 32-11 lead at the United Center. Illinois then went on an equally impressive 41-18 run to take a 2 point lead in the second half. The two teams went back and forth with Dominique Keller (remember him?)...who had 22 points and 9 rebounds...including a game-tying 3 pointer late in regulation. Gonzaga went on to win in overtime however.
The last time the Illini played Gonzaga this far west was at the "Battle in Seattle" in December of 2010. The Illini hit 12-23 from 3 point territory...and hit 11 of 13 long range bombs between the end of the first half and the start of the second half to roll to the win at Key Arena.
Last year...Meyers Leonard vs Robert Sacre was the headline matchup. Leonard got the best of Sacre...scoring 21 points on 9-11 shooting. A combined Illini defensive effort on the Bulldogs big man saw Sacre held to only 2 second-half points. He eventually fouled out of the game.....much to the roaring delight of the packed Assembly Hall crowd that night.
It has been a fun series. I am kind of sad to see it end.
Gonzaga is excellent at home. Since the new McCarthy Center opened a few years ago....the Zags are 110-7 in their home building...which by some accounts can be one of the loudest in the country. You have two top 15 teams going head to head. Some national experts (and some Illini fans as well) dont think the Illini deserve to be ranked this high. Illinois has a chance to prove itself tonight against what Gonzaga coach Mark Few feels fight be the best team he has had in a while. And that says something.... as Coach Few has won 350 games already in his time in Spokane.
This is the end of the road for the current Illini-Gonzaga series.
I did find it interesting that Zags coach Mark Few is continuing the series...indirectly anyway. The next game for Gonzaga after tonight's game in Spokane? A matchup in the annual "Battle in Seattle" event ....against.....Kansas State...and former Illini coach Bruce Weber.
Talk to you late tonight from the eastern edge of Washington state with the Illini and the Zags.