Tate: Big win for 'nasty' Illini

Tate: Big win for 'nasty' Illini

It was another profitable afternoon for John Groce.

The Illini coach, upbeat with the knowledge that Plainfield East junior guard Aaron Jordan chose Illinois over Indiana and Wisconsin on Saturday, handled a “trap game” with aplomb.

Lest you forget, Penn State has been a pain for Illini teams — football and volleyball in particular — and stood 7-7 in the basketball series since Rich McBride’s game-winning attempt was disallowed here in 2006.

The Nittany Lions carried an 80-point average into State Farm Center, missed their first nine shots and, except for a brief spurt before halftime, couldn’t contend with Illinois’ superior rebounding (40-30), defense and general tenacity.

The five Illini starters recorded three field goals apiece and between six and eight rebounds each. Extreme balance. On top of that, the freshman reserves took a step forward in a 75-55 result.

“We were nasty in a good way,” Groce said. “I liked the leadership of Tracy Abrams. We were very concerned about the Penn State guards.”

Said Penn State coach Pat Chambers in a recurring theme: “They’re very unselfish and beat us in every facet. They were tough and physical and we couldn’t find the creases.”

Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill came in averaging a combined 36 points and came away with 15 total, Newbill being ejected with 8:38 left for striking Kendrick Nunn in the back of the head.

Now comes unbeaten Wisconsin in Madison Wednesday. More on that another day.

Flyin’ high

In the late ’80s at Huff, during a workout, Nick Anderson dunked, and walk-on Charles Keller had the misfortune to be under the basket. The missile knocked him out, and as Keller regained consciousness, he asked trainer Rod Cardinal, “Am I alive?”

That was the power and explosiveness of Anderson, the Orlando Magic’s career scoring leader when the 10-year pro was traded after 1999. Anderson, Kenny Battle and Lowell Hamilton had no problem outplaying the proliferation of taller frontline stars abounding in the Big Ten and NCAA in 1989.

Pressed for a comparison with the 2005 team, I cannot overlook the 37-2 record that Dee, Deron & Co. produced ... but must ultimately rate the 31-5 Flyin’ Illini team as marginally superior. They were simply more physical than Bruce Weber’s three-guard unit.

Lou Henson’s 1989 team played stronger opposition overall, and at a time when the Big Ten was at its best. In Week 10 when the Flyin’ Illini reached No. 1, five conference members were ranked in AP’s Top 17, and only Ohio State fell out later. Only two joined the 2005 Illini at season’s end: No. 15 Michigan State and No. 20 Wisconsin.

Comparing players at their positions, the only 2005 member with a clear edge was Deron Williams over Stephen Bardo at point. The Flyin’ Illini quartet of Kendall Gill, Anderson, Battle and Hamilton, when healthy, earned the cumulative nod over Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell and James Augustine. The 1989 bench was clearly stronger with Marcus Liberty and Larry Smith.

If you own a time machine, let’s bring them back at their peak and play it out.

Frigid reception


Let’s play inside. It’s warmer. Do the folks up north really need answers for why all those Green Bay playoff tickets weren’t sold without artificial help.

Let’s start with this.

It’s cold.

There are 7,000 more seats than there used to be, and some of them don’t compare with that new leather couch in the living room.

It’s freezing ... and you want me to sit among the icicles for four hours?

The Packers didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, and the team was drifting when the signups were originally made available.

A guy could get frostbite out there.

NFL experts have been perfecting technology for years to make sports more attractive on TV (where it’s warm). That’s supposed to help attendance?

Some of these crazy fans start drinking in the morning, which doesn’t always make it an enjoyable experience for those who don’t.

Did I mention it’s really cold?

They needed Rodgers’ late bomb to nip the Bears for the playoff spot, and had only a week to sell remaining tickets.

And if tailgating is part of your game-day pleasure, forget it. You might stick to those outdoor toilet seats. Who do you call for help?

On a related subject, I’ve always wondered: How do you heat an igloo without melting it?

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


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