The last time the Golden Gophers toppled Illinois in men's college basketball, newspapers were still relevant. Ink was king and sports bloggers were nothing more than paupers. All of that is changing slowly, but it was neat nonetheless to look back at what the coverage was like of Minnesota's last win over Illinois.
Many thanks to White Speed Receiver, who sent us these two articles from the Star Tribune that chronicle the 1993 win by Townsend Orr, Ariel McDonald, Voshon Leonard and company. That would be the last official win over Illinois. The first article is from then beat-man Dennis Brackin and the second article (after the jump) is from columnist Patrick Reusse, in a decidedly happy tone. Enjoy.
Gophers hang on - barely // Bricks are heavy, but Illini falls anyway
The Gophers men's basketball team celebrated Senior Day and bid farewell to Williams Arena as it now stands by missing eight of 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes Wednesday night against Illinois. But while the Gophers might not have been artistic, they nonetheless managed to provide themselves with a happy ending in the home finale.
The Gophers held off Illinois 67-65 after leading by eight points with less than 2 minutes to play. If coach Clem Haskins is correct, the victory might have secured his team an NCAA tournament bid, although he admits the proposition is an iffy one.
The Gophers (16-9 overall) are 8-8 in the Big Ten, and Haskins reasons that the conference's strength and his team's season-long injury problems - all five starters have missed at least one game - should warrant serious consideration. The Gophers probably could erase any doubt by winning at least one of their final two games - at Penn State on Saturday and Ohio State next Wednesday - but Haskins wondered aloud last night if merely playing close might be enough.
"I think if we play well at Penn State and play well at Ohio State - if we get beat one to five points - I think we have a legit shot (for a bid)," Haskins said. "I think we'd be on the bubble big time, but I think we'd have a legitimate shot."
An 8-10 record looked more like a legitimate shot to land a tournament bid after Wisconsin's prospects for a .500 finish dimmed last night when it lost 62-58 to visiting Penn State. As of now, only six teams - Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and the Gophers - appear to have a legitimate chance to finish .500 or better in Big Ten play.
The Gophers moved a step closer to the tournament mostly on grit and determination. Finesse? Not last night. The Gophers shot 37.5 percent in the first half, 43.5 percent for the game.
Illinois went on an 11-0 run in the game's first 8 minutes, taking a 16-9 lead. The Gophers immediately responded with an 11-0 run of their own en route to a 29-28 halftime lead. Illinois led 46-40 with 12:52 to play when Voshon Lenard suddenly found the range. He had missed eight of 10 shots before hitting four jumpers within a span of 2:10, the last of which tied the game at 52 with 8: 18 to play. The Gophers never again trailed, and led 65-57 with less than 2 minutes to play.
"We had a chance to open the game up if we hit some free throws," Haskins said. "If we make the free throws, it's a 10- or 12-point game."
The near-disaster in the final 2 minutes went like this: Jayson Walton missed two free throws with 1:49 left. Arriel McDonald made one of two with 1:04 left, and one of two again with 40 seconds left. Then Townsend Orr missed two free throws with 24.3 seconds left, and Walton missed two more with 21.6 seconds left. Illinois pulled to 67-65 with 3.9 seconds remaining, but an inbounds play culminating with a long pass from Chad Kolander to Lenard secured the victory.
"I blame the free-throw shooting on the whole mental approach to tonight's game," McDonald said. "We came out a little flat, because it was such an emotional day, knowing two good friends (seniors Nate Tubbs and Dana Jackson) were playing their last games at home."
Illinois had plenty of problems, too, most of them revolving around the relationship between coach Lou Henson and senior forward Andy Kaufmann. Kaufmann entered the game averaging 18.3 points and owning a 57-game double-figure scoring streak, but he didn't start, and scored only two points in 9 minutes. Kaufmann first entered the game with 12:07 left in the first half and was yanked 23 seconds later when the player he was assigned to guard - Walton - scored on a dunk.
"We want team play and we put him in there, and the first thing he lost his man and he scored, so I took him out and let him sit," Henson said. "We need him out there, but we need (team play) also."
Kaufmann was the last Illinois player to leave the locker room and mumbled something about having "made obvious mistakes." Then again, so did most of the Gophers who stepped to the free-throw line. But they weren't complaining.
"For me, it was a fairy-tale finish," said Tubbs, who went scoreless in 16 minutes. "The bad guys came in here and tried to defeat the good guys, and the good guys pulled it out. That's something I can look back on as a nice memory for Dana and myself."
And a nice ending for Williams Arena before its summertime remodeling project.
There's nothing to top basketball - and a `U' victory - in the Barn
Not long ago, it would have seemed foolish to suggest that Williams Arena would outlast Met Center. Clem Haskins arrived in 1986, and soon there were suggestions that it would be necessary to replace the old Barn. There were two reasons for this: 1) one of these nights, one of those mighty roars from the customers might cause the roof to collapse on their heads; and 2) major recruits had become too sophisticated to commit to play in an arena that dated to 1928.
The odds against the Barn's survival seemed to increase a couple of years later, when the owners of the NBA expansion franchise announced they would construct an arena in downtown Minneapolis. People who had watched the downtown crowd maneuver to get Gophers football played in the Metrodome assumed the same scam could be pulled to bring Gophers basketball to Target Center.
It did not happen. There is no crowd in the Twin Cities more loyal to its surroundings than the Gophers basketball fans. These folks let it be known very early that an attempt to abandon Williams Arena would be greeted with much more protest than was football's departure from Memorial Stadium.
The protests were not necessary. The university gave up on presenting the Twin Cities with another 15,000-seat, all-purpose arena. It gave up on the idea of moving another major athletic attraction off campus. A compromise was reached to preserve the Barn for another generation of Minnesota sports fans. A remodeling project started last year with a new entrance and expansive locker rooms under the arena. This month, workers will start tearing up the inside of Williams Arena to put in a few thousand theater-type seats and make other changes.
The days of Williams Arena being nothing more than rows and rows of planks came to an end Wednesday night, when the Gophers took on Illinois in an important Big Ten game. The days when this grand old Barn will hold important Big Ten games will go on and on, well into a new century.
"When I came here seven years ago, I hated this place," Haskins said. "It was old and decrepit, with that raised floor and those hard seats and chipped paint. I thought it was awful, but I stayed and saw the way the crowds reacted, and saw the way our players reacted, and I fell in love with it. I love coaching in here. It's a blue-collar arena and we're a blue-collar team, so everything fits. If you could have heard one of our seniors, Nate Tubbs, talk about this place, about playing in this atmosphere . . . it really lets you know how special this place becomes to our players."
There was evidence of this at halftime last night. The Gophers had struggled to a 29-28 lead in a first half that was about as ugly as big-time basketball can get. There was a ceremony to commemorate Williams Arena as it has stood since the previous remodeling in 1950. Willie Burton, the star of the NCAA teams of 1989 and 1990, was part of the ceremony.
When it was over, Willie flashed the victory smile that he made famous during those two glorious springs, and waved a yellow "Play Hard" towel to rile up the crowd. Willie wanted to listen to that Williams Arena roar one more time.
For much of this night, the groans from the 16,303 fans - larger than any crowd we will ever see again in a downsized Barn - were louder than the cheers. This was a game the Gophers absolutely, definitely, unquestionably needed if they plan to advance to the NCAA tournament. Yet, it was a night when nothing came easy for them.
It was a night when the Gophers had to get down on that bumpy raised floor and claw for loose balls. It was a night when they had to watch in agony as free throw after free throw crashed off the rim, meaning there could not be an instant of relaxation, not until those scoreboards at Williams Arena said it was finally over: Minnesota 67, Illinois 65.
"It was a hard ballgame," Haskins said. "Voshon (Lenard) had that important streak, but we never could get it going as a team when it came to shooting the ball. I told the team at halftime it was going to come hard tonight, and it did. But we're 8-8 in the Big Ten. That's what counts."
The Gophers have two road games left - Saturday at Penn State, next Wednesday at Ohio State. They must win one to make the NCAA's 64-team field.
Penn State had been running 11th in the Big Ten, which sounds sort of funny. Last night, Penn State won at Wisconsin, which did not sound very funny to Haskins. "If you were closer to me, you could hear my heart pounding, after hearing that score," Haskins said.
Ohio State also was struggling. Then, all those freshmen started to learn about big-time basketball. The Buckeyes became the only conference team to beat Indiana. Winning at Ohio State is no longer an obstacle a team wants between it and the tournament.
So, the NCAA remains a large question, but the Gophers did give themselves a chance last night. They gave themselves a chance not with impressive basketball but with a display of grit - about as much grit as the old Barn has accumulated in its 65-year history.
The Gophers were down six after a three-point binge by Illinois early in the second half, and Lenard had to muscle in four straight jumpers to get his team back into a 52-52 tie with 8 minutes left. They were all two-pointers.
"The three-pointer (1-for-6) wasn't falling tonight, so I had to move in and try to bang home a few from shorter range," Lenard said. "It was tough. Illinois played it tough."
And then, when the Gophers finally seemed to have shaken the Illini, Arriel McDonald, Jayson Walton and Townsend Orr went to the line to miss eight of 10 free throws in the last 2 minutes, and it took not allowing Illinois to foul in the final 4 seconds to get away with the victory . . . a victory as ugly and wonderful as the old joint itself.