Tate: Intense rivalry cools, but a fire still burns

Tate: Intense rivalry cools, but a fire still burns

Lou Henson talked about Bob Knight during Tuesday's online chat. Click here to read it

CHAMPAIGN – It is strange, a reversal of decades of basketball tradition, to see Indiana arrive Saturday as a defanged tiger.

Dating back to the Hurryin' Hoosiers of the 1940s, they've been a blood-drawing burr under the Illini saddle.

They've irritated UI fandom with everyone from Jimmy Rayl to Tom Coverdale, from the Van Arsdale twins to Bob Knight, from Isiah Thomas to Steve Alford. While protecting Indiana preps from Illini invasions, and creating an uproar that helped influence Indianapolis star Eric Gordon to decommit from the Illini, they have crossed the state line to pluck a long line of Illinois products ... from Chuck Kraak to two-time Big Ten MVP Archie Dees, from Quinn Buckner to the Thomas duo, Isiah and Daryl.

The Knight operation dipped into Peoria for Derek Holcomb (he returned), A.J. Guyton and Chris Reynolds, took blue chippers Eric Anderson and Glen Grunwald out of Chicagoland, migrated south for Brian Sloan and Marty Simmons, and outdueled the UI for Effingham's tall Uwe Blab.

Most recently, strikingly short of talent, new coach Tom Crean added Champaign's Verdell Jones III and Washington's Matt Roth to his roster.

Driven by a feverish fandom, the UI's eastern neighbor has beaten the Illini to the punch with fve NCAA championships, thus carving out a status as one of the national basketball elite. And every decade since the 1940s is marked by contentious UI-IU confrontations.

The 1940s

With the UI's Whiz Kid era just around the corner – NCAA title hopes were shattered in 1943 and 1944 by World War II – a committee headed by Tony Hinkle awarded coach Branch McCracken's 1940 Hoosier team the geographical NCAA berth on the basis of two wins against Purdue (and a 38-36 defeat of Illinois) even though Purdue won the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers took advantage by capturing the second NCAA event, routing Kansas 60-42 in the final.

Illinois entered and exited from the war with superior teams, but the returning Whiz Kids fell short in their final game, 48-41, at Indiana and thereby lost a share of the 1947 Big Ten title with Wisconsin. The late Fred Green became a frequent late-game hero as the Illini closed the decade with 46-45, 52-51, 44-42 and 91-68 triumphs, and reached their first Final Four in 1949.

The 1950s

Harry Combes' powerhouse Illini teams reached the Final Four in 1951 and 1952, losing two-pointers each time, and emotions were electric as IU and UI carried Top 10 rankings into the 1953 contests. Indiana, featuring big Don Schlundt and Collinsville's Kraak, prevailed in overtime at home and 91-79 in Champaign, and then rolled right through the NCAA tournament with Bobby Leonard converting a late free throw to edge Kansas 69-68 in the 1953 finale. A year later, on March 6, Illinois needed only to win at Indiana to reach the NCAA playoffs, but a team of Red Kerr, Jim Wright, Max Hooper, Bruce Brothers and Paul Judson came away disappointed, 67-64.

The 1960s

Carrying over from the BonSalle-Ridley-Judson-Ohl teams of the 1950s, the early '60s were marked by some of the most high-scoring, intensely competitive explosions in NCAA history. In a stretch of 23 IU-UI games in which Indiana took 12, the winner scored 80 or more 22 times, 90 or more in 15 of them and, with Dave Downey and Bill Small leading the Illini to the NCAA tournament in 1963, the teams split 104-101 and 103-100 games. This remarkable stretch of close, high-scoring games ended when Combes' last team beat Indiana 80-70 in 1967.

The 1970s

Knight arrived at Indiana in 1971-72 and quickly ruled the roost as the Hoosiers rolled through two 18-0 Big Ten runs and toward the national title in 1976. Knight's nine-game win streak against Illinois ended in 1977 after Lou Henson became UI coach. Even though the games were often lopsided, they were much anticipated as Knight drew the ire of Illini fans with his actions and his recruiting successes in Illinois. And when Henson teams won three of four at the end of the decade, it became apparent that Knight would not calmly accept these setbacks.

It was about this time, in 1979, that Knight was sentenced in absentia to jail for hitting a Puerto Rican police officer at the Pan American Games, and his erratic behavior went on through the years to include shoving an LSU fan into a garbage can, publicly blasting Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke and conference officiating, tossing a chair in the Purdue game, kicking various objects including a megaphone, taking his team off the court in an exhibition with the Soviet Union, shattering a secretary's vase, hitting an assistant coach, wading through various ejections and outrageous public displays, and putting a choke hold on a player in practice. From any viewpoint, he made the games interesting.

The 1980s

On Jan. 27, 1985, Knight kept Blab at center but benched Alford, Stew Robinson, Daryl Thomas and Todd Meier in a game at Illinois. What he was trying to prove was never clear, Illinois forging ahead 24-12 at half and winning 52-41. This created a furor that not even Kool-Aid-drinking Hoosier fans could defend.

It was about this time that Knight charged Illinois with cheating in the recruitment of Lowell Hamilton. He later would be quoted that he "had genuine respect for Lou Henson as coach, but I think he had a couple of assistant coaches who got out of line with recruiting."

The Hamilton investigation led nowhere, but Knight carried on a telephone campaign accusing Illinois of infractions (as related in John Feinstein's book, "A Season on the Brink"), and Knight helped create an atmosphere of doubt with NCAA officials who ultimately served Illinois with murky "institutional control" sanctions stemming from the Deon Thomas case.

In 1987, with Illinois building toward its strong 1989 run, the Illini became the last to defeat Indiana's national champions, 69-67, as Ken Norman and Doug Altenberger combined for 44 points and Steve Bardo blocked Alford's last three-point attempt.

The 1990s

On March 10, 1991, Knight avoided a postgame handshake as he walked off the Assembly Hall court just before the end of a 70-58 defeat of Illinois. By that time, Henson had endured enough and, when Knight threw a comment in his direction from the locker room door, Henson charged toward the door (assistant Mark Coomes muscled his way in between them) and called Knight a "classic bully who thrives on intimidation." From 1991 through Henson's last season in 1996, Indiana teams were significantly better, but the games were never short of controversy.

Lon Kruger took over at Illinois and had Knight's number with a 6-2 record, losing only during the 3-13 Big Ten season of 1999. And even then, that subpar Illini team ripped Indiana 82-66 in the Big Ten tournament.

Of all the violent showdowns in the IU-UI series, the most heated occurred in Bloomington on Feb. 24, 1998. When the Illini's Sergio McClain blocked Luke Recker's drive-in midway in the second half, Knight walked on the court to check the injured Recker and also to sharply criticize official Ted Valentine. When the rhubarb was over, Knight had three technicals and was banished, and Illinois used the free throws to breeze to an 82-72 win while the Hoosier fandom raged almost uncontrolled.

The 2000s

No game compared to the contentiousness over the Gordon recruitment. The prep All-American seemed firmly committed to Illinois until Kelvin Sampson replaced Mike Davis as Indiana coach, and old antagonisms soared as Sampson made staff hires geared to reverse Gordon's decision. At the same time, Sampson and his assistants made illegal telephone calls that led to his demise and, for the time being, the temporary collapse of the Indiana program.

Not unexpectedly, Illini fans became unruly during a double-overtime IU win last February, and the treatment of Gordon and his followers was deemed so extreme that the university issued an official apology to Indiana for the conduct.

Indiana entered last March with a 24-4 record. Since that time, the Hoosiers have lost most of their veteran players and 13 of 19 games. They appear headed for the Big Ten cellar while the Illini, since February, have rallied to win 18 of 22.

But regardless of the circumstances, Cream and Crimson clashes with Orange and Blue.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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LoyalIllini wrote on January 08, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Thanks for the pin point accuracy across the decades of this storied rivalry. Here's to a big win on Saturday to start a new, big, long, happy chapter in favor of the Illini.

IlliniSky wrote on May 01, 2010 at 6:05 am

Has everyone ever given a name to the Illinois-Indiana rivalry? Like "The Game" with OSU and Michigan or "The Holy War" with ND and BC? If not, it's about time one of the hottest rivalries in college basketball did get a name.

MarkHoekstra wrote on January 09, 2009 at 8:01 am

Do some research, Loren. Knight threw the chair in 1985, not in the 1970s. Seven home games!

jeffh wrote on January 09, 2009 at 9:01 am

Great history Loren, I think you do this sort of Illini-related historical stuff better than anyone else.

I have to say though, I really enjoyed the years when you omitted Knight's name from your column, and your September 11, 2000 piece where you reported his demise -- and referred to him accurately as "The Classic Bully" is masterful.

I have showed that column many times to blase New Yorkers, where I know live, as an exmaple of Mid-western basketball passion!

LoyalIllini wrote on January 09, 2009 at 10:01 am

How about if we just give Knight credit for throwing a chair in each decade.

CecilColeman wrote on January 10, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Henson was Illinois' third coach in three years and his first year was Knight's second consecutive (18-0) run in the Big 10; IU won the NCAA that year with an undefeated record. Does everyone realize how far, far below the Hoosiers' program Illinois was when Lou arrived?