Today’s game will provide an awkward moment or two for good friends John Groce and Thad Matta. Bruce Weber knows what they’re going through, having to coach against mentor Gene Keady in his first two seasons at Illinois. A look back at the games:
Purdue 58, Illinois 54. Weber’s first season was about to hit rock bottom — the loss dropped Illinois to 10-3 ahead of a meltdown at Northwestern — and had the coach sounding like he missed Southern Illinois. “I just hope they can find it within themselves to find out what it takes to win consistently. I’m not sure they (know) right now,” he said afterward.
Illinois 81, Purdue 79. What was Coach worried about? The win, made possible by Luther Head’s last-second tip-in, clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for Illinois. Said Dee Brown, remembering the earlier loss to Purdue: “It hurt Coach because Coach really wanted to win that game, but now we came here and made up for it. It’s lovely, man. He’s done so much. He’s stuck with us, and it was just a great feeling.”
Illinois 68, Purdue 59. Illinois was 16-0 and No. 1. Purdue was 4-7 and looking ahead to the Matt Painter era. Said Deron Williams: “We don’t want to lose. We’re going to try to keep winning as long as we can. We’re going to try to stay No. 1, stay at the top of the food chain. We want people to come after us.”
Illinois 84, Purdue 50. Keady’s going-away gifts included a golf bag and golf weekend in Chicago, two tailored suits and a cellphone with two years’ service. The Orange Krush also made him an honorary member. “It was very gratifying. It comes from a special person and special family. I couldn’t be happier for Bruce. He deserves this. He’s worked very hard. He’s a class individual who does things right. It was tremendous. It’s just too bad we had to play against him.”