Oliver, Hawkeyes enjoy redemption
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nobody needed to nudge Dean Oliver's memory bank before Thursday night's game with Illinois. He knew last year's scores and his stats.
Two losses for the Hawkeyes by a combined 19 points. Two bad-shooting nights for himself (9 of 25).
"They played real great defense on me," the sophomore point guard said. "They really put it to us. I struggled."
The first loss in '98 really hurt Oliver. The Hawkeyes entered the game undefeated in the Big Ten and ranked in the Top 25. They were coming off wins against Indiana and Northwestern, just like this year.
"We were ranked, 2-0 in the Big Ten, and we blew it," Oliver said. "This was a second opportunity, and we knew we had to take advantage of it."
Oliver helped the Hawkeyes end Illinois' three-game series streak. He had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in an easy 84-62 win.
"I knew that I hadn't beat them yet," Oliver said. "I wanted to do well, jump-start us early on and kind of get the tempo our way."
Oliver hopes the win starts to turn the series Iowa's way. The Hawkeyes had lost six of their last eight against Illinois.
"I just wanted to beat Illinois one time," Oliver said. "At least one time."
Not that he recognized many of the Illinois players. The Illini who put a double whipping on Oliver last season are scattered across the globe, replaced by former reserves and newcomers.
"Sergio (McClain), that was about it," Oliver said of the familiar faces. "Other than that, it was a whole different ballclub."
Oliver wasn't the only Hawkeye thinking back to last year's games. Center Guy Rucker had a five-turnover performance in the first '98 loss and had foul trouble in the second. The junior scored 11 points Thursday, more than he had combined in the '98 games.
"We were having flashbacks," Rucker said. "I had flashbacks of losing those games. They had five tremendous seniors. We just wanted to come out and play hard."
Rucker doesn't miss Jerry Hester, Kevin Turner, Jarrod Gee and friends.
"Not at all," Rucker said.
Thursday's game was typical Illinois-Iowa, Rucker and Oliver said. Lots of hard hits. Gobs of talking.
Michigan native Rucker took awhile to get into the spirit of the rivalry. Now, he knows the importance of the game.
"I don't know how (the Illini) feel about it, but the guys from Iowa really take that to heart," Rucker said.
To add a little spice to the rivalry, Iowa's roster is dotted with players from Illinois.
Oliver, from Mason City, Iowa, didn't hear much pregame chatter from the Land of Lincoln Hawkeyes.
"But I heard it out on the floor," Oliver said. "It's a lot of fun out there. Guys have egos. If you're a competitor, it's fun."
Iowa forward J.R. Koch, a Morton native, played his final home game against Illinois.
"It is a little bit more meaningful for me," Koch said. "It's fun to beat them."
With a secure lead late in the game, the Hawkeyes kept firing shots and playing tough defense. That's part rivalry and part Iowa looking to put teams away, Oliver said.
"We've had problems with getting leads and getting tentative," Oliver said. "We wanted to stay aggressive because we've been blowing some leads."