Dec. 24, 2003
Tuesday night was my first time calling the Braggin' Rights game between Illinois and Missouri, and it lived up to its billing. There were more than 20,000 fans screaming at Savvis Center in Saint Louis, and the intensity was something special.
In the end, coach Bruce Weber's Illini came away with a big 71-70 victory.
Big Ten Finally Beats Big 12
Illinois' victory gave the Big Ten a boost, since the league was 0-6 this season against Big 12 opponents entering this game:
Missouri over Indiana
Texas Tech over Iowa
Kansas over Michigan State
Oklahoma over Michigan State
Oklahoma over Purdue
Colorado over Northwestern
I learned firsthand why this is one of the premier nonconference rivalries in America. Illinois (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, 7-2) raced out to a 21-point lead in the first half.
But coach Quin Snyder's Tigers never gave up. Missouri (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, 4-2) made a major adjustment to contain Illini point guard Dee Brown in the second half.
Brown had a monster first half with 14 big points, breaking out of a shooting slump which saw him hitting under 30 percent from the field in his prior five games. In the second half, Missouri stepped out on Brown defensively, not allowing him clear lanes for open shots. He finished with 18 points and six assists.
Missouri seniors Rickey Paulding, Travon Bryant and Arthur Johnson -- each trying for their first win over Illinois -- led the second-half comeback. They wanted this game so badly, but Illinois pulled it out.
One of the unsung heroes for the Illini was Nick Smith. He made two key plays down the stretch, but they won't show up in the box score. Smith made a key pass which led to a James Augustine basket to give Illinois the lead after Missouri had rallied to tie the score.
Smith also came up big on the defensive end, knocking away an entry pass intended for Johnson, leading to a Missouri turnover in the final seconds.
These teams have been trying to find the right chemistry. Illinois got the big W despite having Deron Williams (broken jaw) on the sidelines once again.
Click here to send a question for Dick Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.