Top 10 Illini Moments Of The Aughts December 30, 2009
So I’m on vacation in Naples, Florida right now. I hadn’t intended to post anything this week, but the idea of the best Illini moments this decade kept bouncing around in my head. Mostly because this vacation reminds me of one thing: 10 years ago today, sitting in a stadium 90 minutes from here, watching my Illini simply destroy Virginia in the MicronPC Bowl. So much hope on the Illini horizon after that game, in both football and basketball. And as this decade taught us, hope is a dangerous thing. The list:
#10: Illinois 33, Rutgers 30 (September 3, 2005)
The Moment: Trailing 27-7 after the Leonard Leap in Zook’s first game, the Illini mount a comeback. But after years of fake comebacks under Ron Turner, we all knew where this one was headed. We’ll get the ball back with a chance to tie, we’ll drive down and punch it in, and then we’ll all look back down the field to see the holding flag.
Except when Brasic did hit Halsey for the tying score with one minute left, there was no flag. We tied it, sent it to OT, held them to a field goal, and then punched in a touchdown in 3 plays. There was hope in Memorial Stadium again. But hope, as we would come to learn, is…
#9: Illinois 76, Clemson 74 (December 2, 2009)
The Moment: How would I know? I missed the entire game, remember? But from the newspaper accounts of the game that I was able to read, it appears that a shorter player from the University of Illinois was able to steal the orange ball from the opposing team, bounce it several times while running, and deflect it off the glass board and through the net to give the Fighting Illini of Illinois more points on the scoreboard for the first time since very early in the athletic contest.
#8: Illinois 87, Seton Hall 79 (December 9, 2000)
Speaking of comebacks, this list can’t include Clemson if it doesn’t include the 21 point comeback against Seton Hall. And since I was at the Seton Hall game, it gets placed one spot higher.
The Moment: Down by 17 early in the second half, Lucas Johnson drew a charge on Seton Hall’s Sam Dalembert. Lucas stood up and got all Lucas-y, and the crowd, nearly silent the entire first half, began to wake up. If I recall correctly, Frankie hit a floater in the lane to cut it to 15, Tommy Amaker called a timeout, and everyone in Assembly Hall knew what was going to happen. This young Seton Hall team was about to be exposed. A few more Frankie Floaters took us to overtime, and a few Corey Bradford 3-pointers put the game away. The Hall was rocking.
#7: Illinois 38, Michigan 13 (October 31, 2009)
I fully realize how out-of-place this looks after our disappointing 2009 season. I also fully realize how unsubstantial this looks after Michigan won only 1 Big Ten game (At home. Over Indiana. Barely.) But I don’t care. We finally beat Michigan in Champaign, and I was there to bask in it.
The Moment: Do I even need to type it? Roundtree’s at our 45, and Hawthorne’s at their 46. And then they meet at the 1.
#6: Illinois 81, Purdue 79 (March 3, 2004)
The Moment: Purdue’s Kenneth Lowe ties the game with a three with 10 seconds left in overtime. Roger Powell slips behind the defense and goes for the game-winning, Big Ten title-clinching layup. He misses. But there’s Luther, hanging in the air, falling backwards for the win. Speaking of falling-away shots on March 3rd to clinch the Big Ten title…
#5: Illinois 67, Minnesota 66 (March 3, 2002)
Down 66-57 with only a few minutes remaining, our hopes of sharing the Big Ten title seemed lost. And then Minnesota did the greatest job of peeing-down-their-leg that I’ve ever seen. Let’s not kid ourselves – if Minnesota doesn’t start throwing the ball out of bounds on every inbound, we don’t share the 2002 Big Ten title. But they did, leading to:
The Moment: Illinois inbounds the ball under their own basket (after yet another inbounds error by the Goofers), and everyone in The Barn knew where the ball was going. Frank Williams, down the right side, high off the glass, Big Ten Champs.
#4: Illinois 42, Wisconsin 35 (October 20, 2001)
This one will likely be the biggest surprise. There were many other memorable moments in the 2001 Big Ten Championship season for the football team. But when I think back on that year, I think of the 4th quarter of the Wisconsin game. Illinois was a surprising 5-1 going into the Wisconsin game and cruising 25-7 in the third quarter when Lee Evans goes off. In what seemed like 2 minutes, Wisconsin scored 4 times and suddenly we’re down 35-28. Here we go again, right?
The Moment: Wrong. Kittner marches the Illini right down the field and hits Brian Hodges for the tie, we get the ball back, and Kittner hits Brandon Lloyd for the game winner. 401 yards later, Kurt Kittner loudly proclaimed that this wasn’t your typical Illini team. Sugar Bowl here we come.
#3: Illinois 91, Wake Forest 73 (December 1, 2004)
The Moment: Dee Brown, seated near the Wake Forest hoop (the #1 in the country Wake Forest hoop, I might add), smiling from ear to ear and screaming, orange mouth guard shining. I turned to my buddy and said “this game is over – already.”
I want to say it was the 8 minute timeout of the first half. Playing the #1 team in the country on national TV, and you knew the game was over 12 minutes in. Another thing that sunk in that night: that team was really, really special.
#2: Illinois 28, Ohio State 21 (November 10, 2007)
These top two soar above any other Illini games in the past 10 (20?) years. They likely need very little explanation, but I’ll try anyway.
The Moment: 3rd and 10 at the Ohio State 50, 3:38 left in the game, and tOSU calls timeout. Jim Tressel calls every Buckeye defender to the sideline and tells them on thing: Juice Williams is going to run the ball, and they must stop him before he gets 10 yards. This is it. #1 ranking on the line, BCS championship on the line (er, well, kinda), and one simple task: don’t let Juice get 10 yards.
He didn’t. (dramatic chipmunk) He got 12. The image of Tressel smacking his hand in disgust will forever be etched. I’m an Illini football fan. I don’t get much. But I’ll always have the Tressel hand smack.
#1: Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (March 26, 2005)
Talk about needing no explanation.
The Moment: Everyone always says Deron’s three. Which is absolutely correct. But it was Jack Ingram’s tip that made it all possible. Check that: Dee’s steal and Luther’s threes and Deron’s layup AND Ingram’s tip made it all possible. But when I think of that game, the first thing I think of is Ingram’s tip. That sequence, accentuated by Dick Engerg’s brilliant playcall where he started to predict Deron’s three before he released it, will not be topped until we win a National Championship in one of the Big Two sports. Typing it out nearly 5 years later (good god – 5 years?) gives me chills.
“Williams could tie it with a three… HE DOES!!”
Happy New Decade, Illini fans.