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The Most Memorable Games of the Illinois-Michigan Rivalry

The Illini and Wolverines have had their share of intriguing matchups.

Illinois and Michigan meet for the 125th time on the the hardwood Thursday night in Champaign. Entering this game, the series is dead even at 62-62. To commemorate the 125th game in this rivalry, we decided to look back at three of the more memorable games in this series.

1989

In 1989, the Flying Illini were the class of a loaded Big Ten. Michigan was an extremely talented team that underwhelmed at key points in the season. Two of these key points came against the Illini on January 14, 1989 in Champaign and March 11, 1989 in Arbor Ann — the final game before the NCAA tournament. The Illini victory in Ann Arbor triggered a chain of events that led to Michigan assistant Steve Fischer taking over as Wolverines’ head coach. In the Tournament, the Illini and Wolverines cruised though their respective regions — Michigan in the South Region as a 3 Seed and Illinois in the Midwest Region as a 1 Seed — to set up an all Big Ten National Semifinal in Seattle’s Kingdome.

The Illini were the obvious favorite but had to have felt uneasy about playing surging Michigan a third time. The game went as scripted with both teams bringing their A game. The Wolverines — led by the Glen Rice, Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson and Loy Vaught—battled the Illini — led by Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty, and Kenny Battle — blow for blow heading into the final minutes of the game. In the closing seconds, Michigan had the ball as it set up for the last shot. Terry Mills took the shot with 6 seconds and missed but Loy Vaught got the putback with 1 second left to break the Illini’s heart.

From there, Michigan would go on to win the NCAA Championship two nights later against Seton Hall and then hit another peak a few years later with the arrival of the Fab Five. The Illini, on the other hand, fielded some good teams in the coming years but would fail to go beyond the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament again until 2001.

1993

In October of 1992, Jalen Rose was hanging with some childhood friends in what would be considered a rough part of Detroit. Rose was now a sophomore and one of the most boisterous members of Michigan’s Fab Five. From what we know, Rose and his friends where doing nothing more than playing video games. The police raided the home while they were hanging out and found a small amount of crack rock and marijuana on the individuals hanging out in the house. Nothing was found on Jalen so he was not arrested. A few months later — in early March of 1993 — the story hit the press as word quickly got out that Rose was in a “crack house.” The first game following the breaking of the story was in Champaign against the Illini.

The Wolverines came into the March 1993 matchup with Illinois with a 24-5 record as they vied for a 1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the Illini came into the matchup in Assembly Hall looking to improve on their seeding for the Tournament with an 18-10 record and a fired up student section looking to give Jalen Rose hell for his recently discovered transgression. The ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary on the Fab Five covered this game in explicit detail, so we won’t rehash rehash what exactly Illinois students yelled at Jalen.

As for the game itself, the Illini and their students created an intense atmosphere that gave the Fab Five all it could handle, but the Fab Five — who always embraced the villain role — handled the entropic atmosphere in Assembly Hall as well as it could.

Michigan ultimately prevailed 98-97 in overtime as Jalen Rose and his 23 points were instrumental in the victory.

2005

The 2004-05 Illini were regulars on ESPN’s Super Tuesday. On three consecutive Tuesdays from late-January to early-March, the Illini battled Wisconsin, Michigan St and Michigan — all on the road — in ESPN’s headline game. The final game in this trio was in Ann Arbor in what was expected to be the easiest game of the three.

On February 8, 2005, the Illini came into the matchup with Michigan with a 24-0 record and ranked No. 1 in the country, while Michigan was in the middle of a decade-long period of mediocrity full of several NIT appearances and no NCAA Tournament appearances.

Michigan came out on fire as it built a four-point halftime lead. Then, the Illini did what they did best: hit outside shots and create fast break hell on the court with their team speed.

Luther Head and Dee Williams helped the Illini seal this one as they went on to win 57-51 in Ann Arbor. As for the rest of the season, the Illini went to the NCAA Championship game while the Wolverines’ season ended in another NIT appearance.

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