Memory Lane: Ending the Fab Five curse

Memory Lane: Ending the Fab Five curse

EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE

This week: Illinois lost nine straight against Michigan in the Fab Five era until Lou Henson's final team answered back.

Headline: Illini finally fabulous

Date: March 3, 1996

By LOREN TATE

Richard Keene belatedly remedied two serious shortcomings during his final season as an Illini.

He was part of a long-awaited 96-85 overtime defeat of Missouri, even though he fouled out in the final minute of regulation.

And he played one of the half-dozen greatest games in a four-year career as Illinois broke Michigan's nine-game dominance 73-62 Sunday.

That game demonstrated once again that when Keene is on target with his majestic jumpers, he is one of the most devastating players in the Big Ten. There has never been any question about his defense, passing or defensive rebounding.

So, what was the difference between this 6-for-8 performance, and his 1- for-9 shooting effort four days earlier at Indiana?

"We had the same looks at Indiana, but the shots wouldn't fall," Keene said. "We did the same things as before. When we penetrated and they collapsed, we kicked it out and had good shots. We got the inside-outside game going.

"We had the same effort at Indiana, but we couldn't get the ball to go down. Today we hit."

Accurate shooting isn't something the Illini can depend on as they venture to Michigan State Wednesday.

The same team that cranked out a winning percentage (48.4) Sunday checks in at just 41 percent in 16 Big Ten games. And Keene is shooting only 32.6 percent from the field in Big Ten games, and 37.6 overall.

The job this week is to carry the accuracy displayed in the recent home wins over Iowa and Michigan onto a foreign court. Fisher chief Henson culprit Despite Sunday's loss, Steve Fisher, a native Illinoisan, remains the chief culprit in the latter years of the Lou Henson regime.

It was Fisher who coached Michigan to the 1989 Final Four victory in Seattle over the Flying Illini.

It was Fisher who outrecruited the Illini for big Chicagoan Juwan Howard toward the end of the long, uncertain period of the NCAA investigation.

It was Fisher who unleashed the Fab Five on the basketball world, and always got enough rebound putbacks to string together nine straight victories over the Illini.

He wanted one more Sunday as he strives to rally Michigan from its earlier 5-for-6 losing spin. But, despite Michigan's customary dominance in the lane, the Illini outshot and outexecuted the Wolverines, 73-62.

"As much as I like and respect Lou and Mary Henson, this is not the way I wanted my last game against a Henson team to end," said Fisher. "I hope they win the next two and get into the tournament, and I hope we win the next two and get in the tournament."

Fisher said his team needed a little more help for Maurice Taylor, and added that guard Louis Bullock, who was 5 for 15 with four turnovers, "played like a freshman today."

Said the coach: "Illinois scored too easily on us. It's to Illinois' credit. They played like a team that wants to win out. They played like a team that wants to go to the tournament. And I hope that happens." Tate's tidbits:

— With three treys Sunday, Keene moved into third place on the all-time Big Ten three-point list with 230 career treys.

— Sunday's win knotted the all-time Illini-Michigan series at 65 apiece.

— Michigan stacks up once again as the early-bird favorite for the Big Ten title next year, particularly if prospective recruit Mateen Cleaves joins juco star Brandon Hughes and injured squadmen Jerod Ward and Robert Traylor on a club that loses only Duan Fife.

— Michigan, 18-11, needs only beat Northwestern and Wisconsin to get 20 wins and wrap up its 11th NCAA tournament berth in 12 years.

— Henson said the current streak of turnovers is the best he can recall by an Illini team against Big Ten competition. Starting with the Jan. 27 game at Northwestern, the Illini have made 8, 4, 11, 11, 7, 9, 6, 9 and 7 turnovers. That's 52 fewer turnovers than the opposition in half of a Big Ten season.

— Kiwane Garris on sore-ankled Illini teammate Jerry Hester: "Jerry couldn't do much, and he said it was real hard trying to get around the picks. I said, "Don't worry, just be there for us.' His ankle isn't fully back yet."

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