Phil Pash’s simply sports: These are heady days for area cage fans

Even with the Cubs’ imminent trade of Sammy Sosa to Baltimore, and Super Bowl XXXIX coming up Sunday (Feb. 6), these are heady days for area basketball fans—at virtually all levels of fandom.

The NBA Bulls are winning and above .500. The Bulls, good Lord, the same team that started out 0-9 was 22-20 and only three games back as of Jan. 29. Do you believe in miracles?

The Miracle of the Orange continued in Champaign-Urbana Jan. 29 when top-ranked Illinois smothered Minnesota 89-66 to go to 21-0, 7-0 in the Big Ten. It happened in front of former coaches, including Lou Henson, and many of the Fighting Illini’s past players, including the 1988-89 team, on hand to celebrate the school’s 100 years of basketball.

Duane “Skip” Thoren, former Rockford East all-stater, was one of 20 players named to the Illini All-Century Basketball Team, a big part of the centennial celebration on campus. The 6-foot-10 center played 1963-65 and was first-team All-American in 1965. He averaged 22.2 points and 14.5 rebounds as a senior and 20.3 points and 13.8 rebounds as a junior. Those are the top two rebounding seasons in Illinois history.

Next up for Illinois was a key game Feb. 1 at Michigan State, followed by Feb. 6 Indiana at home, Feb. 8 at Michigan, Feb. 12 Wisconsin at home, Feb. 16 at Penn State, Feb. 19 at Iowa, Feb. 23 Northwestern at home, March 1 Purdue at home and March 5 at Ohio State. The Illini are 74-3 in their last 77 games at Assembly Hall.

Roger Powell Jr. netted 21 points, Deron Williams 18, James Augustine 15 and seven rebounds and Luther

Head 10 points for Illinois, which tied its longest conference winning streak at

17 games. The streak was first accomplished between 1914-16.

The Illini defeated Minnesota for the 11th straight time. Vincent Grier scored 17 for the Golden Gophers (14-6, 4-3), who have not won at Assembly Hall since 1978. Rockford Guilford grad Aaron Robinson had only three points for the Gophers.

Illinois was coming off a big victory Jan. 25 in Madison, Wis., where the city’s three network-affiliated TV stations (channels 3, 15 and 27) were everywhere before and after the Illinois-at-Wisconsin battle of streaks.

News and sports crews were live talking to fans in front of the Kohl Center and in popular fan bars on State Street near the UW campus. The Brat Haus said business was equal to any football Saturday with a home game. One station had a report with a psychologist talking about the home-court advantage.

Illinois beat No. 18 Wisconsin 75-65, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 20 games and ending the nation’s longest home court winning streak at 38. Wisconsin was seeking its first win over a top-ranked opponent since beating Ohio State in 1962.

The Fighting Illini became the first team to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center since Wake Forest Dec. 4, 2002. Wisconsin’s average margin of victory during the streak was 20.4 points. The Badgers fell to 53-3 at home under Bo Ryan, who lost a Big Ten home game for the first time in his four seasons as coach. His teams are 26-1 at home in the Big Ten since he took over in 2001.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who had peddled his team as the underdog despite eight straight weeks atop the poll, said the biggest thing about the Illini’s first win in Madison since 1998 was what it meant in the Big Ten race.

“This is a great moment,” Weber said. “They’re enjoying it in the locker room. This is the most excited they have been all year, even more than they were at (then-No. 1) Wake Forest. They are truly proud of themselves. They really wanted to come in here and break the streak.”

Literally all over the country, Beloit College alumni, family, friends and fans will gather around TV sets at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, to watch the Bucs take on Grinnell on ESPN2.

It will be the first time in history that Beloit will play on national television, and gatherings in homes, video stores and favorite establishments will mark the occasion. According to the Beloit alumni Web site, get-togethers are planned in Chandler, Ariz., Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Owensboro, Ky., New York City, Kansas City, Denver, Austin, Texas, Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison.

Even in Beloit—at Suds O’Hanahan’s Irish Pub and Denali’s Food and Spirits, both on Grand Avenue in downtown Beloit. Several busloads of Beloit boosters also are headed to Grinnell in Iowa for the game.

Rockford College junior Kristina Dorman of Sterling reached a career milestone Jan. 29 when she scored her 1,000th point with a steal and layup on the very first play of the game. She led all scorers with 18 points and added six rebounds.

Paula Jones hit a 3-point basket with seven seconds left in regulation to tie it at 56 and the Regents outscored Benedictine University 10-5 in overtime to notch a 66-61 victory. Rockford (15-5, 5-2) now is in first place in the Northern Illinois-Iowa Conference with a half-game lead over Concordia. The Regents moved into a tie for first Jan. 25, thanks to a 71-57 win over Dominican.

Also at Rockford College Jan. 29, the men’s team (12-5, 4-2) shot down 17th-ranked Benedictine 68-61 behind Maurice Lewers’ 18 points, Maurice Smith’s 13 and Mike Jamerson’s 11. Joel Carter and E.J. Avery each snagged eight rebounds for the Regents.

Jeremiah Box of Rockford Christian Life reached the 1,000-point plateau for his prep career, scoring 13 in a 57-29 victory over Marengo Jan. 25. The three-year senior forward, whose older brother, Joel Box, also played at Christian Life, leads the Eagles in scoring, rebounding and assists.

With absolutely nothing against Rockford Jefferson, it’s always good to hear about a coach like Jack McCarthy and his Belvidere Bucs pulling off a major upset in the prep ranks.

Jason Fiske hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bucs a dramatic 52-51 upset win at home Jan. 25, handing the J-Hawks their first conference loss of the season.

It was career win No. 298 for McCarthy, and as he told the local daily afterward, “… this is what high school basketball is all about.”

Yes, it is.

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