The insider

News-Gazette beat writer Brett Dawson's weekly look at the game he loves:

Tate: On eve of league play, coches still in awe of Ilini

"Surprise!" is a proper exclamation when you sneak up behind someone. But it's a strange, often inappropriate word in the world of competitive athletics.

The Chicago Bears "surprised" us Sunday after Sunday, even though their most pessimist apologists acknowledged their defense would keep them in every game. The White Sox "surprised" by winning the World Series, even though they had the best pitching (defense!) and produced more victories than any team in the American League.

Who's that Illini?

I'm one of the best sprinters in Illini women's track and field history. I won eight Big Ten individual and relay titles, including a sweep of the 100 and 200 at the 1998 outdoor meet in Columbus, Ohio. I was fourth indoors in the 55 at the 1997 NCAA meet.

Former Illini in the NFL

Here's how former Illini players fared in this weekend's games:

Ask the expert

Last week, James Augustine set Illinois' career rebounding record with 854 rebounds, but it seems that there were many more missed shots – and therefore more rebounding opportunities – in the 1940s and 1950s. Did Illinois really never have a player with more rebounds?

Half and half:Illini creamed

IOWA CITY, Iowa – After squandering a 17-2 lead Sunday against Iowa, the Illinois women's basketball team figured to learn something about itself.

The early returns were positive. Illinois rebounded, took a five-point lead into the second half and seemed to have regained its ways.

Preparing to set friendship aside

CHAMPAIGN – Dee Brown can't remember the exact wording of the sign that a Michigan State fan waved last winter in East Lansing.

But he remembers the gist. That Spartan fan was suggesting that Michigan State had landed the better of Proviso East's Browns, that Spartan Shannon was a better player than Illini Dee.

Who's that Illini?

An Illinois native, I played one season for the Illini women's basketball team before transferring to Iowa, where I became an All-Big Ten guard. Known as a soft-spoken, perimeter sharpshooter, I developed an all-around game and played for the 2000-01 team that won the Big Ten tournament.

Schedule no cause for holiday cheer

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Illinois women's basketball team ushered in the New Year at a Sheraton hotel on Saturday night.

That's not to suggest they saw 2006 arrive, of course. "Lights out" was set for 11 p.m.

Letter rip

This week's letters from readers: