Last Saturday had a little bit of everything. First, a near scare on the football field as Ron Zook's Fighting Illini survived Louisiana-Lafayette in a game that should not have been nearly this tight by a final score of 20-17. The Ragin' Cajuns, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, fell behind early, but managed to stick around and give the Illini everything they could handle. Daniel Dufrene led the Illini on the ground with 19 carries for 126 yards, while Juice Williams completed 13 of 25 passes for 147 yards. Yes, not great totals, but enough to sustain and get the victory. But, a win is a win, nonetheless, and gave the Illini a 2-1 record heading into their bye week. Coach Zook said last week that this bye week was much needed, since the team had a long and prosperous training camp and went headlong into the season pretty much right after that. They say that defenses win championships, and the Illini's sure was on target, especially Brit Miller, who stripped the ball from Cajun quarterback Michael Desormeaux and ran it back 27 yards for a touchdown. Never at a loss for words, Miller lets his actions speak on the field, and this score surely spoke volumes. Having a bye week this early in the season lets the team recharge their batteries and get ready for the Big Ten season, which begins this coming Saturday night at State College, Pennsylvania against the Penn State Nittany Lions (7:00 pm CT, ABC). For the Illini to be successful in Happy Valley, they will have to limit their mistakes and learn to take better care of the football, something that eluded them against Lafayette. Then, it is on to Michigan to face a much different Wolverine squad under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez. We will certainly know more about what this year's edition of the Illini will be after these two games. Stay tuned.
On Saturday night, the stars were out in full force at the Assembly Hall in what amounted to one of the most anticipated nights on the U of I campus in recent memory. Those of you in attendance will agree with me that the Hall was sweltering in the mid-September heat, but that didn't seem to dampen spirits of those that braved the elements. For the first time since their Final Four run back in 2005, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and Roger Powell all took the Assembly Hall floor together and dazzled the crowd. Williams, who is a superstar for the Utah Jazz, had his gold medal in hand and was recognized with USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, himself an alum that was being recognized, for their outstanding achievement in bringing the highest honor home. The game did not dissapoint either, as the Blue team that featured this quartet defeated the White team, which was a bit older 84-7o. Williams led the Blue squad with 19 points, while Powell and Head scored 13 and 11 points, respectively. Former Flyin' Illini standout Kendall Gill led the White team with 14 points, while fellow teammate Nick Anderson netted 13. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the unveiling of the 30 jerseys that will be displayed in the Assembly Hall next season. Simultaneously, the representatives all untied their respective banner, and the sight was one to not be forgotten for quite some time. With all of the talk about what will become of the Assembly Hall if and when the decision is made to either renovate the existing building, or build a new facility, one thing is clear; if renovation is chosen, AIR CONDITIONING will be at the top of the wish list!
The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team continued their non-conference season with a win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (25-18, 25-13, 25-13) to push their record to 9-2 before the conference season begins next weekend when they play at Indiana on Friday night, then travel to State College to battle Penn State on Saturday.
Janet Rayfield's women's soccer team continues to play well, as they won a pair of matches last weekend, first defeating Colorado College 2-0, then coming back on Sunday to defeat Washington 3-0. In the win over the Huskies, Emily Zurrer put in the eventual game winner, and also received goals from Jessica Levitt and Chichi Nweke. The victories move the Illini to 6-3 overall and they also begin conference play on the road next weekend, first playing at Madison against Wisconsin on Friday evening, then traveling back into the state to battle Northwestern on Sunday afternoon.