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Illini try to match ISU's road warrior approach       Send a link to a friend

By Jeff Mayfield

[JAN. 24, 2005]  On Tuesday night in the lovely town of Madison, Wis., the most important basketball game of this season or of any season will be played. The reason it carries that kind of magnitude is multifaceted. The Illini are 19-0, 5-0 and No. 1 in the nation for an incredible eighth straight week! If they could cross the cheese border and come away with a win, it would be a victory of epic proportions.

Historically, the Illini have not played well in cheese land, and I think somebody mentioned that the Badgers have some kind of a little winning streak that they're all puffed up about (actually it's a fairly impressive 38-game home-court winning streak, but far be it from me to keep track of Bucky's little adventures).

However, in many ways this is a different Illini team making its way to Dairyland. These guys have already been battle-tested. They have played games in several locales around the country and have escaped unscathed. What I would give to see them do it again on Tuesday night?

They will have to bring their most physical presence all year. They will have to rebound the rock like they did in the second half and in overtime against Iowa. They will have to ignore the way the game is called and all the other usual distractions. They will have to ward off one of the nation's best and rowdiest crowds. They will need to execute coach Weber's game plan down to every jot and tittle. They will need to be physically tough, mentally rugged and resolved to take no prisoners.

Perhaps, they should take a page out of ISU's playbook. The Redbirds went on the road to Creighton in a game that saw them as huge underdogs. Down by six with less than two minutes to play, to most it seemed hopeless. BUT, not to the Redbirds. And when senior fireballer Trey Guidry connected with four seconds left in regulation, ISU got an invite to overtime on the road. Guidry and Gordon got the Redbirds in position and point guard Vince Greene nailed 6-for-6 free throws at the line to cage the Bluejays.

The Redbirds were valiant and courageous in taking their amazing season to a record of 13-5 and 5-3. The Illini will have to match their counterparts' efforts should they desire to go 20-0!

Railers do neutral court damage

As has become his custom, Lincoln coach Neil Alexander takes his guys on the road and to tournaments where they will play tough teams. They will encounter all styles of play and all kinds of environments. Yet another ingredient in annually winning 20 games or more... and usually doing it all with an admittedly undersized team. But not many basketball pundits are able to measure the size of the kids' hearts in Lincoln. And because they can't, they don't know what we're made of.

Alton found out on Saturday night. In a 51-30 thrashing, Lincoln only put one man in double figures. An outstanding performance by Matt Schick saw him light the 3-point lamp not once, not twice, but SEVEN times on his way to 21 points. Though the Railers were outrebounded only 20-18, they more than made up for it in the turnover department. Lincoln forced 15 Alton miscues while committing only four themselves.

Further evidence to support my theory is the way this team perennially bounces back from tough losses. No doubt Lincoln's league loss that preceded this contest was a bump in the road, but you don't see the Railers wallowing around in much self-pity. They come out the next game and destroy the opponent. That's what mental toughness and extra effort will do for you.

As for me and my house, we'll take the kids with more heart EVERY time!

Lady Railers exact some revenge

Lincoln's Lady Railers had a score to settle with SH-G. They did so the other night with a thrilling 45-31 payback. This game snapped a two-game losing streak, finds the ladies at 11-8 and 6-3, and I think should be good enough to find Lincoln in second place in the league. More importantly I think they're coming together at just the right time!

Hall of Fame

This weekend LCC will be hosting its second annual Hall of Fame Classic. Tell 'em at the door that Greg Taylor and I sent you to get tickets for a game, and don't forget to congratulate a fine slate of HOF inductees along the way. For more information, see

The LDN salutes the inductees: Howard Merchant, Harry Orn, Bob Phillips, Larry Leathermon, Jim Williamson, Amanda Siddens-Bowman, Stephanie Nangle-Farr and Matt Clark.

100 years of Illinois basketball

The Illini are hosting some festivities of their own this weekend as over 300 former players, coaches and managers are planning to return to the Assembly Hall to help celebrate 100 years of Illini basketball. It promises to be a special treat, followed by a tough game with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. What player would you like to see again?

Lincoln's Joyce Cook will represent Brian, who was chosen to the 20-man All-Century team! Brian and his Lakers are obviously in the middle of their season, making him unavailable for this huge event.

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Speaking of Cook…

He had seven points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 20 minutes of action this weekend. He helped lead the Lakers to another victory -- this one over yours truly's favorite boyhood team, the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers are now 22-16 and in third place. They will see how good they are Tuesday night as they will host arguably the league's best team, the Seattle SuperSonics.

"Super" matchup

Greg and I talked about this during the opening days of "FANdamonium this year." We hoped other teams would fare better (like the Bears, Rams and Colts), but we "suspected" that the usual suspects like the Eagles and the Patriots would make it back to the BIG game again. I don't think we went out on any limbs there, but just saying…

Those Patriots have quite a team, but maybe the Eagles can find some way to give them a game. Somewhere I can hear Mark Luzadder screaming uncontrollably for his Eaglets!

Lou Henson retires

The father or grandfather of Illinois basketball, Lou Henson, is finally hanging up his whistle down in Las Cruces, N.M. Lou is only 21 wins shy of 800 and is like the fifth or sixth winningest coach ever. Henson plans to be at the Assembly Hall this weekend and will likely bring down the house when he makes his appearance. He's brought it down before.

One of the first years (maybe even the first) the Illini did Midnight Madness, it was of course on Halloween, and that was the theme of the night. They played eerie music and had fog machines cranking out the smoke. They then introduced some of the players and coaches, and then the captains solemnly carried out a coffin to midcourt, sort of signifying our respects to all of the potential victims on the schedule. Just then the music changed and a spotlight shone down on the casket. The lid flew off and out popped Lou!

I still can't believe he let them put him in there for those few minutes. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen and in a strange way gave me a new respect for Lou. That little gimmick brought down the house!

All of us here at the LDN thank Henson for everything he has meant to Illinois basketball and for putting it on the map. We congratulate him and the 300 other great Illini returnees for all their heroics on our behalf… OSKEWAWA!!!

Late-night king is gone

I love people with smiles on their faces. I love the eternal optimists. They have a zeal and a zest for life that is unquenched and that cannot be diminished. Oftentimes they are great storytellers. Some of them are so quick on their feet that they never miss a beat and seem to make sure that EVERYONE is having a good time.

That's what the legend Johnny Carson was to me. No matter what kind of a day I had, I could always turn on the "Tonight Show" and know that I would be entertained. I knew that if I listened to Johnny, the worst problems or situations on my mind would somehow seem lighter.

I would always look forward to seeing one of my best friends, Lynn Laughlin, the next day. Neither one of us would have to say a word; we would just glance at each other and bust out laughing. Nine out of 10 times we were thinking of the exact same joke. I have greatly missed those occasions.

The other sad thing that happens when an icon dies is that it makes me realize that none of us is getting any younger either.

Why not make someone's life a little brighter this week? Why not do it today?

At any rate, we salute the king of late-night television. It is doubtful to me if we'll ever see anyone quite like him.

Hee's baack…

I told you that Tiger was lurking! He didn't play his best but still won the Buick Invitational in this writer's home county by three strokes. Arguably the rest of the field broke down all around and left Tiger as the only man standing. It was his first PGA Tour title on home soil in 16 months. I told you he was lurking…

That's it for me folks… Have a great week, everybody!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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