The Big Ten or Western Conference as it was then known was very much a regional conference until after World War II. However, Minnesota during the early 1900s was the top of the conference.
So when the Gopher five first played against Illinois on February 7, 1906 the Minneapolis Tribune previewed the game as an excellent test to gauge Minnesota against a tough team. It wasn’t much of a test as the Gophers won 31-19 and the Gophers ran away with the conference.
One of the best parts from this game is the complaining done about the referee. It’s a sign that some things never change. Although as the article below describes, it would be fairly unusual today for a coach to complain so much about the officiating that he is allowed to take over for the ref.
One of the biggest draws to basketball games during this season was the after game dance. And as the following article about the game says, the crowd was small. I wonder if bad weather kept the dancers away.
From Minneapolis Tribune Thursday February 8, 1906
Minnesota won the first intercollegiate basketball game of the season last evening in easy fashion, defeating the Illinois team on the university armory floor by a score of 31 to 19.
The first half proved a practical walk away for the Gophers. Brown scoring first for his team within two minutes of play and baskets following in quick succession until the half ended with the score 23 to 6 in favor of Minnesota.
During the second half play was interrupted frequently by the call of fouls and this somewhat broke up the smoothness of Minnesota's play and enabled the visitors to crawl up slightly on their opponents’ lead.
The first half was fast and interesting exhibition of the game. Howard Kayser acted as the only official and ran the game well. He called only two fouls, one on each team, and the game was marred only by some slight wrangling over a technical point. Illinois objected to Kayser's ruling regarding carrying the ball out of bounds and in the second half Coach Brown of Illinois acted as referee. He proceeded to make the same ruling his team had objected to from Kayser and made himself objectionable by calling fouls repeatedly and not following the ball close enough to see other fouls that should have been called.
These tactics on the part of the referee made the players of both teams irritated and caused them to become careless and thus spoil the game. The second half can not be compared to the first in point of good sport and was a tame affair to watch.
Minnesota’s team, playing its first game against a conference team, and with three of its players in their first game put up an excellent articles of ball, especially during the first half. The team work was excellent and coupled with some good individual work kept the play under the Illinois basket most of the half.
Garfield Brown, playing left guard for Minnesota proved the star of the game. Besides playing a brilliant guarding game and repeatedly breaking up all attempts at team work by the visitors he made most of the Gophers’ points. Running forward constantly he eluded the opposing forward easily and getting into the team work with the Minnesota forwards scored seven baskets from the field.
Martin Larson also played a steady game at the other guard position while Steve CLark put up a fast game at forward. McRae was not in the best condition but played a steady game. At center Elyu was slightly outplayed by Riley of Illinois, the latter with Tallmadge playing the best game for the visitors.
It was the first game the Illinois teams had ever played off its own floor. This is the first year inter-collegiate basketball games have been entered by the Champaign team and although several games have been played on their home floor they were for the first time playing on a strange floor and before an unfamiliar audience. The visitors left last evening for Chicago and will play Evanston Y.M.C.A. this evening and Chicago university Friday evening. Minnesota plays Illinois again in Champaign on Feb. 27.
A rather small crowd watch the game.