LIsten to Bruce Weber on Monday morning by clicking here
EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF LOREN TATE AND THE MEMORIES OF JIM TURPIN.
This week: A look back at Frank Williams' buzzer-beater that downed Ohio State, 80-77, in the Big Ten opener in 2000.
Date: Jan. 6, 2000
Headline: Buckeyes' bruiser early warning sign
By Loren Tate
CHAMPAIGN — Call me the Grinch who stole Christmas, but all the news wasn't good coming out of Thursday's wondrous 80-77 triumph against 13th-ranked Ohio State.
Here they were, riding a salvo of three-point bombs — Illinois outscored OSU 27-12 on treys — and all the Illini needed was someone to slow steel-muscled buckeye sub George Reese.
Reese is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound Columbus resident who wandered back home after one-year stops at South Florida, Columbus State and John A. Logan College. He had just lost his starting position to Yugoslavian freshman Slobodan Ocokoljic when he won it back with Thursday's 24-point near-destruction of the Illini.
"You can't take it away from him. We threw everbody at him," said Illini Cleotis Brown, like Reese a fifth-year senior out of junior college.
The 6-5 Brown would have been willing to try, but he bruised his lower back and tailbone in a frightful fall that ended a rousing 17-point performance. This is just the tip of the Illini injury iceberg.
As coach Lon Kruger gazed down at the bench, he saw lanky Brian Cook, who picked up his third and fourth fouls in six seconds as Reese swept around him on the baseline ... he saw Robert Archibald, out again with a deteriorating disk that is creating lower back pain and shooting shock waves down his leg ... he saw Damir Krupalija with a big toe still too sore to play ... he saw Victor "aches and pains" Chukwudebe, who managed eight points in nine minutes of gutty, limited action.
And finally, after Reese went wild with 18 of OSU's last 31 points, mostly over an outsized Lucas Johnson who was forced to move from small to big forward, Kruger sent in Chukudebe for OSU's last possession. To Chukwudebe's credit, Reese missed a contested jumped only to have Brian Brown tie the game with the Buckeyes' 16th offensive rebound.
Wounded Illini in quick turnaround
So even as Frank Williams pulled off a Kaufmann-Anderson finish, draining a 23-foot trey at the buzzer, there is plenty to be concerned about.
Kruger is taking an ailing team into a quick turnaround, facing a Badger team that routinely hands out more bruises than Mike Tyson. (They'll bite your ear, too!) While the Badgers have an extra 24 hours to prepare, Kruger will conduct a short practice for the walking wounded before flying today to Madison, Wis., and won't even have a shootaround before the 11:15 a.m. game Saturday.
Whereas rebounding, defense and depth figured to be team strengths in 2000, this has evolved into a club that has been outboarded by Duke, Maryland, Kansas State, Kansas and Ohio State and edged Loyola by one rebound last week. And has costed them the Missouri game, the Illini have displayed a worrisome inability to prevent dribble penetration.
So it's back-to-the-wall time in Madison, where the Illini have lost seven of eight, that one win being saved two years ago on a game tying spin shot by Kevin Turner that put the game into overtime.
Yep, it's a long, tough trail through the Big Ten, and the Illini need to get healthy in a hurry. You can't rely forever on three-pointers to make up those deficits.
Johnson, IHSA get together
If Champaign-Urbana's effort to regain the state prep basketball tourneys is a long shot, state Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Sidney, isn't conceding.
Johnson hosted 12 board and administrative members of the IHSA plus Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart and several C-U leaders at Thursday night's game.
Assuming there is no change in the UI's determination to keep the Assembly Hall open for a possible women's regional, Johnson hopes to sell the IHSA on the idea of starting both prep tournaments at the same time and alternating the Class AA and A finals between the UI and Peoria on the same weekend. Flaws in the plan are twofold: Peoria probably won't go for it, and neither will the IHSA board.
But look for Illinois to make a strong bid to land football in 2001 against an Illinois State operation that, in one year, has lost its president, athletic director and football coach, not to mention its' men's and women's basketball coaches, volleyball coach and the Redbird Arena director who managed the football tournament.