Feb. 8, 2005
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Now that the Super Bowl is over, sports fans can enjoy the run leading up to March Madness, the greatest month of sports excitement.
Tuesday night's action had its share of thrills and drama. Two teams came in unbeaten: Illinois escaped with a W, but Boston College saw its perfect season end.
There was also the Florida-Kentucky SEC battle at Rupp Arena.
Let's start with Illinois. After calling Illinois' win at Michigan State last week, I said that I felt the Illini would run the table through the regular season. Well, coach Bruce Weber's Illini had a scare Tuesday night against a Michigan team that was blown out by Purdue and Ohio State. But Illinois hung on for a 57-51 victory to remain unbeaten (24-0, 10-0 Big Ten).
Irish guard Colin Falls had the game of a lifetime, scoring 23 points and canning seven trifectas
Coach Tommy Amaker's Wolverines (12-12, 3-7 Big Ten) played a tough zone defense that gave Illinois trouble. But in the end, Michigan guard Dion Harris' solid performance was not enough as Illinois guard Dee Brown willed his team to the winner's circle.
Brown's quickness led to a couple of key baskets in transition that turned the game around. Illinois rallied from an eight-point deficit to win its 24th straight.
Meanwhile, Boston College (20-1, 9-1 Big East) deserves a salute despite going down Tuesday night for the first time this season. Coach Al Skinner's Eagles fought hard but fell to Notre Dame 68-65. The Irish really needed a big win, especially coming off an emotional three-point loss at Syracuse on Saturday night.
Coach Mike Brey's Irish (14-6, 6-4 Big East) didn't get invited to the NCAAs last season despite a 9-7 Big East record. The Irish wanted to improve their NCAA tourney resumé, and the win over a top-five team should help.
Irish guard Colin Falls had the game of a lifetime, scoring 23 points and canning seven trifectas while coming up big defensively by taking a charge late in the contest. The Irish also did a great job of containing Craig Smith inside.
Kentucky Survives Gators' Visit
I had a great time calling the Florida-Kentucky game in Lexington, as two of the best teams in the SEC scrapped and clawed. Billy Donovan vs. Tubby Smith. David Lee vs. Chuck Hayes.
Florida (14-6, 6-3 SEC) did a great job in the first half anticipating defensively, blocking shots and scoring in transition. Guard Anthony Roberson was brilliant before intermission.
In the second half, you could feel Kentucky's defensive intensity change, with the Wildcats becoming more tenacious. Tubby Smith used several different players to shut down Roberson as Kentucky prevailed 69-66.
Kentucky's tremendous defense led to several baskets in transition and kept Florida's offense out of sync for much of the second half. The D also got the adrenaline of the fans pumping in Rupp Arena, one of the best places in college basketball to feel the emotion of the fans.
Kentucky (18-2, 9-0 SEC) won its 15th straight SEC game, but it wasn't easy. The Gators played hard and gave the Wildcats a scare.
Wow, what a great night of college basketball ... it gets even better Wednesday night with North Carolina vs. Duke (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), the best rivalry in college sports, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.