In Your LIFE

Mar 3, 2021

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There's this famous call from Verne Lundquist at the 2005 Masters. You've seen the clip. Tiger is chipping off the back of the green, the ball rolls right to the edge, pauses, and then falls, and Verne Lundquist says his famous line: "in your LIFE have you ever seen anything like that?".

Here's the clip, if you've never seen it.

It's such a perfect call. And the fact that it was Verne, at the Masters, 19 years after his "yes SIR" for Jack Nicklaus - it's just perfect broadcasting. Share the exact emotion you're feeling at the time: in your LIFE have you ever seen anything like that?

After this game, I'm struggling to say that I have.

Let's just start with a quick list from tonight. A very simple, concise list:

  • We've never beaten #2 or #1 on the road, so this was the highest-ranked team we've ever beaten on the road.
  • We did this with our leading scorer, certain first-team All American, and possible National Player Of The Year on the bench.
  • We did not just "win". We won by 23. It was the third-worst home loss for Michigan at Crisler, which was built in 1967.

Try to contextualize that. It's impossible.

Michigan went from 1998 to 2009 without making the NCAA Tournament. They had some horrific years in there, winning only 10 games in 2001, 11 games in 2002, 13 games in 2005, and 10 games in 2008. And only twice in the last 54 years did Michigan lose a home game worse than this one: a 27-point loss to Michigan State in 2001 and a 25-point loss to Indiana in 1985. There's an 11-season streak in there of not making the Tournament a single time - so many horrible Michigan teams - and this team is the one with the third-worst home loss.

The one ranked #2.

Playing Illinois without Ayo Dosunmu.

I mean, in your life, have you? I have not. It's the single-greatest regular season Big Ten victory of my lifetime.

I mean, had we won by one, with Ayo, it's probably the single-greatest regular season Big Ten victory of my lifetime. Neck and neck with beating #3 Indiana on the road with Nick Anderson's shot. Win by 23? Twenty three?

I should probably go in a different direction here because I'm never going to find the words to put this into perspective. There is no perspective. This is the new standard, at least for regular season games. And it won't ever be topped in my lifetime.

How can I write about something I can't even understand? Maybe I'll get a little risky with this post. Maybe I'll vignette this one (can that be a verb?). I'll hop on Twitter right now and ask for some moments to write about since I was so lucky to be in the building, and then I'll write a little vignette around each of them.

Here we go. Tweet sent.

The 5 point Trent play with the sexy crossover

The bench went absolutely insane. We recorded a Board Room podcast afterwards and I told this story, but it reminded me of those old And-One tours where someone would do something crazy with the ball and the crowd would go insane. And if that person crossed someone and then launched a three, the crowd would crouch down ready to explode. And if the shot went in, pandemonium.

That's what the Illinois sideline did for that Trent three. Eleven simultaneous "OHHH"-s when Trent got his defender's momentum moving in the wrong direction. An entire sideline crouched-down in anticipation when the ball was in the air. And then, as I saw that they showed on the broadcast, absolute pandemonium.

There are no crowds this year, so it's such a stale environment. The vibe is that of a game under the lights at the local park with maybe 30 people watching. So the crossover, followed by OHHHH, followed by SWISH, followed by AHHHHHHH, is about as great as Covid-era basketball gets.

I've told this story before, but there was one Illini basketball moment that made me do what the Illini sideline did: The Frank Williams Show. I was with my friends Brian and Derek at the Lake of the Sky Motor Lodge in Tahoe City, California. Frankie already had us buzzing, and then he goes behind-the-back to Brian Cook for the layup, the crowd is going insane, Dick Vitale is screaming "he's drivin' and dishin' the rock, Mr. Williams", and THEN, while all of that is going on, mid-sentence for Vitale, he gets another steal, drives for the layup, and Iowa takes a timeout. I remember running around the hotel room and jumping from one bed to the other. I had no idea what to do with my body.

That's how the sideline was tonight. I'm so glad there were shots of it in the highlights. OHHHH, then SWISH, then AHHHHHHH.

Trent's free throws with the guys arm-in-arm

He's talking about this:

Let me show you something. I've been saving this for a few days, wanting to find the right spot. This is the right spot.

Here's the video I took of Da'Monte on Senior Day:

Here's a video I took on Saturday of Wisconsin's team reaction during Senior Day:

Class, would anyone like to point out the differences between these two videos? Yes, Sarah?

"The Illinois team really seems to care about each other while it sounds like Wisconsin pumped in crowd noise because their seniors just stood there quietly clapping for Brad Davison".

Gold star for Sarah.

That's the kind of thing I think about when I see the players doing that. And I really think a lot of the credit needs to go to Giorgi. He might be the huddliest player in Illini history.

I haven't taken any photos because it happens during the national anthem and I'm not going to take photos during the national anthem but when the anthem plays, Giorgi always has his arms around two teammates. Usually the big men. Often it's Jermaine Hamlin and Brandon Lieb. Giorgi loves a good embrace.

So while I didn't see who initiated the arm-in-arm while Trent was shooting, I'm guessing Giorgi. I mean this: the guy loves his teammates.

Oh man there's 50 responses to my tweet now. Gonna have to pick my way through the list...

The canned recording of The Victors blaring 3 seconds after the conclusion

They played it most of the night. Even heard it in the concourse when I went to the restroom. And as I left the restroom, looking down as I walked, each granite band in the flooring had a different line. I'd walk across "Hail To The Victors Valiant" and then 12 more steps and it's "Hail To The Conquering Heroes". I did make myself laugh with my inner-dialogue of "but they're in the Big Ten East" once I got to "The Champions Of The West" on the floor.

But yes, Covid Crisler is pretty much what you'd expect. And I don't mean that as some jab at Michigan Men or something. They love that song, and they play it all the time.

To the point where I'm not sure they understand the moments where maybe they shouldn't play it (like immediately after losing at home by 23 while ranked #2). The name of the song is "Victors", and, uh, you lost. But, traditions are traditions, and I'm guessing they just play it after every game, win or lose.

Might want to skip it when the game is on ESPN and there's no crowd noise to drown it out, though.

Brown airball free-throw and Giorgi and Monte's reaction

This is what he's referring to:

Can you imagine being a Michigan fan watching that? You've been yapping at Illinois fans on Twitter for weeks, waiting for this game, and you can't believe your luck that your team will get to cut down the nets and celebrate a Big Ten title after a home win over the Illi-whine-i.

And then you lose, and not only do you lose, you lose by 23, and not only do you lose by 23, the other team is high-fiving your airballed free throws on ESPN. I'm guessing a lot of televisions were turned off in the glove state at that exact moment.

But there's more to that story than just the high five. When he air-balled the free throw, the Illinois bench got LOUD. It wasn't like Krush was there, raining down "aaiirrrr-ballll, aaiirrrr-ballll". But they did go with the random "ohhhh... ohhhhhhhhh" callout. 12-15 guys all yelling "ohhhhhh" at random times.

Da'Monte heard them, turned to the Illinois bench on the other end, and, with Brown standing two feet away, gave the Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix motion:

The disrespect is real.

Adam Miller from Ypsilanti

I never know what's shown on TV, so maybe you saw this, but Miller ran a 200-meter dash after nailing that three.

Here's a photo I took after the game. Obviously, those baskets in the foreground weren't up during the game. Maintenance staff put them up (for practice tomorrow, I'm guessing) immediately after the game.

The orange arrow shows where Miller ran after hitting that three and Michigan taking a timeout. He hit the shot on the basket to the right, so he turned, ran the full length of the court, and then circled into the corner.

He ran to that spot, screaming and celebrating, and with Michigan having taken a timeout, his teammates ran towards that corner as he circled back and ran towards the bench. The officials actually had to step in and provide a path for some of the Michigan players to get to their bench.

That seemed to be the moment when the game was over. I was still nervous, of course. Michigan came out of the locker room hot, scoring seven points on their first three possessions of the second half. But Illinois matched them shot for shot, and when Miller hit that three, it was suddenly a 16-point game only four minutes into the second half. By the time Trent had that five-point possession six minutes later (the two free throws from the technical followed by the three pointer), Illinois was up 28. TWENTY EIGHT.

Curbelo self high five and then jumping on Underwood

See I don't even know what that is. But that's the difference between watching at home and watching in person.

Curbelo butterknifing the entire Michigan defense

When I got to the game, I'm thinking "will I go three-for-three in the last eight days with someone sitting in my media seat even though there's only 150 people in the building?" The answer was no. Because Michigan doesn't do assigned seating.

They have stickers on the tables showing which seats are open and which seats are closed. The usher told me I could sit in any of the seats, just not the front row. So I picked a seat in the second row closest to the center of the court. Apparently, this was the Michigan media section because the only people who filled in around me were Michigan reporters.

But the usher did come by to check on me, so I know I was allowed to sit there. I think it's just one of those situations where three Michigan Media Men might walk up to me, one cracking his knuckles, and say "seat's taken, son - move along" because while there's no assigned seating, those are the Michigan seats.

Anyway, because of this, I could hear their chatter most of the night. And a lot of their disbelief was centered around Curbelo getting to the rim. They kept making noise (gasps and such) when Michigan would swipe at a missed block shot. I was interpreting the noise and reactions as "Michigan hasn't allowed layups like this all year - how is this guy getting to the rim?" Over and over and over, a Curbelo layup with a Michigan big swatting at the air followed by disbelief all around me.

Trent drills a mid-range jumper with 40 seconds left in the first half to go up 11 and get a 2-for-1 opportunity

If there was a foreshadowing moment in this game, that was it. "Oh, freshman year 'on a heater' Trent Frazier is here tonight." A hint of what was to come in the second half.

The coaches get credit for that 2-for-1, by the way. They called it from the bench. As soon as Trent got the steal, they were yelling something. Trent kind of acknowledged it and then came off the screen to shoot the quick two (and give us a double-digit lead).

And then in the second half, just a pure Freshman Trent performance. 16 second-half points, 2-3 from three, 4-5 from the line, and the lead goes from 11 to 28 in the first ten minutes of the half. On the road at #2 Michigan with Ayo out for the third game in a row.

I asked Brad Underwood about Trent in the postgame, and as part of his answer, he called Trent "the Ultimate Illini". That's nearly perfect. Called upon to be a scorer his freshman year when we win 14 games, then adjusts to playing with Ayo his sophomore year (and we win 12 games), then moves heavily into a defensive role as a junior (how many players see their scoring cut significantly and just change to "I'm all about defense now"?), and then this year, more defense. But with Ayo out, and Trent can still hit the ignition, and so he did. 16 second-half points to put away #2 Michigan.

On the road.

Without Ayo.

In your LIFE have you ever seen anything like that?


Rauman23 on March 3, 2021 @ 03:26 AM

I am over the moon. Thank you, Robert, for recapping this, and all of its best moments. As a sophomore at U of I right now, I came to this university hoping to see the tournament drought broken after lifelong fandom. Instead, I've been treated to something much sweeter. Thank you so much for adding to this journey. It has been such an unbelievable ride, and I hope it continues to be over these next few weeks. I-L-L

Altgeld88 on March 3, 2021 @ 11:01 AM

Enjoy it, my young friend. You are at the right place at the right time, as many of us were in the '80s. We've all been waiting a long time to get back to where we belong.

illinizeeman on March 3, 2021 @ 04:15 AM

One team played like their lives depended on it. The other team showed up to be awarded a win.

chillini on March 3, 2021 @ 05:50 AM

Michigan starting five: 9 FG on 38 attempts in combined 141 minutes of play

Curbelo off the bench: 8 FG on 14 attempts in 19 minutes of play.

DB50 on March 3, 2021 @ 06:30 AM

We had 3 of our 4 youngest granddaughters over for the day and I was only able to watch intermittently. I saw the Illini led at half and I thought good, maybe they’ll keep it halfway close and only lose by10 because they are running on fumes and Michigan at home, loaded ranked #2, forget it! When I finally looked at my phone after dinner I blinked and said “holy s—t”! No Robert, never in my life. Michigan couldn’t play us 2 weeks ago because they needed time to get into game shape. They apparently need 2 months to play the “Fighting Illini”!

IlliniEsq on March 3, 2021 @ 07:41 AM

Do yourself a favor and look up the Curbelo/Underwood GIF. It is outstanding, and similar to the love you talk about with Giorgi and Senior Night.

Lenfrom64 on March 3, 2021 @ 08:14 AM

When I see this TEAM, all I can think of is this: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!" You need something as eloquent as Shakespeare to describe this team.

Football54 on March 3, 2021 @ 08:16 AM

Robert, you must see the Bello hug if you haven't seen it. Greatest thing you'll ever watch.

NC_OrangeKrush on March 4, 2021 @ 08:15 AM

And I just can't imagine that happening with Lou Henson.... you have to be a big guy to handle that hug...

ATOillini on March 3, 2021 @ 08:51 AM

Your intro/title was simply brilliant. That clip is pure tv sports perfection (and I'm not a big golf fan)....The wide camera angle with the crowd which then starts to zoom in, the bird chirping, the Nike swoosh on the ball as it sits on the lip of the cup, and then of course Verne's call. Goosebumps.

What to say about last night? I have to laugh. I see the first comment here is from a current sophomore (which means I'm about 44 years older), so this may seem totally out of left field to that person. I was reminded of a somewhat popular and really corny song from 1971 by Jerry Reed. I'll let the opening lyrics speak for themselves:

"Well me and Homer Jones and Big John Talley

Had a big crap game goin' back in the alley

And I kept rollin' them sevens, winnin' all them pots

My luck was so good I could do no wrong

I jest kept on rollin' and controllin' them bones

And finally they jest threw up their hands and said

"When you hot, you hot"

I said "Yeah?"

When you're hot, you're hot

And when you're not, you're not"

Anyway. I hope you get the point. I do have a question or two. How in the world did we find, recruit and sign Curbelo? He is just so Steve Nash. A unique player. Who else recruited him?

Great post. As they tourney approaches, I feel my anxiety rising. That always happens when I believe we actually have a very good team.

Giovantischixstripz on March 3, 2021 @ 09:13 AM

Curbelo is just missing the knockdown shot of Steve Nash to be able to able to be a star. Probably better defensively already than Steve Nash, more length and anticipation.

We got him because Orlando Antigua has connections with the Puerto Rican National team that he played for. He was recruited heavily, offers from St. Johns, Rutgers, Florida, Georgetown, UConn, Kansas, Oregon, Miami and Texas A&M. Antigua just knows how to get recruits of Carribean decent. Feliz, Kofi, Andre, and now RJ Melendez for next year. The island pipeline

ATOillini on March 3, 2021 @ 09:41 AM

Thanks much for this detailed response. He is fun to watch.

The Olaf Rules on March 3, 2021 @ 09:31 AM

The clip of the Curbelo leap into Coach’s arms is on the front page of Loyalty if you scroll down.

It is so cruel that Covid has robbed Illini Nation of the chance to watch live and in person one of the most special teams in school history. But on the other hand, I am sure that isolation in their little bubble has forged this group into an uncommon family. They only have each other, and you can see what they’ve made of it.

Altgeld88 on March 3, 2021 @ 09:41 AM

Yes. What we saw last night was historic. I'm still trying to make sense of it. What a blessing that you were there for it.

Data point: that 25-point Michigan loss to Indiana in '85 occurred to one of the most talented Michigan teams ever. That loss was their Big Ten opener. They proceeded to lose to the Illini two games later and then ran off 17 consecutive wins before losing, as a #1 seed, to eventual NCAA champ Villanova in the second round of the tourney. They won the conference that year and finished ranked #2 in the nation.

I was a freshman at Illinois that year. We had an outstanding team (finished 2nd at 12-6 and #12 in nation) but no one could touch Michigan. Antoine Joubert, Roy Tarpley, Richard Rellford, Gary Grant, Butch Wade. Better than the '89 team by far. They were something else.

ditkanate on March 3, 2021 @ 03:01 PM

Antoine friggin Joubert, wow now there is a name I haven't heard in forever. Man the 80's had some amazing Big Ten teams didn't they?

thegoah on March 4, 2021 @ 02:04 PM

IIRC my first assembly hall game ever was against Michigan and Joubert was on the team. Went off, I think. But we won.

larue on March 4, 2021 @ 02:22 PM

Joubert I remember as a mostly unsuccessful Ayo. He was a good player, but always tried to make the winning play at the end of close games and wasn't quite good enough to get it done most of the time.

One reason Dallas didn't put much effort into signing Deon Thomas after drafting him was that they were still trying to rehab Tarpley from his drug issues. They should have signed Deon.

Brave Illini on March 3, 2021 @ 09:50 AM

When your team plays like that, everything is so much better In Your LIFE. Can you imagine the memories these young men will have and the positive effect on each of them from this experience, which they will likely carry for the rest of their lives? It seems almost transcendent. Thank you, Robert, for enrichening the way we fans experienced the game.

BanTheCharge on March 3, 2021 @ 10:19 AM

"Because their seniors just stood their quietly clapping for Brad Davison"

Me...a smartass by nature who is always looking to make a witty comment would counter that they were just doing that because Davison is a penis that no one likes...but that's beside the point.

Seeing this team grow throughout the year has been so much FUN to watch, and this was the perfect encapsulation of how giddy I am about this team going forward.

What a night, what a win, what a group to root for. Hopefully the best is yet to come!

Robert on March 3, 2021 @ 01:00 PM

For some reason, this comment helped me see that I there/their'd that sentence (how could my brain possibly think "their" in that instance?).

It's funny. I went through a full, slow proof-read. Read over it several times and missed it. But when someone else quotes it in the comments, I see the there/their immediately.

mmyers74 on March 3, 2021 @ 01:21 PM

Don’t worry, it was “Sarah” that mistyped.

Robert on March 3, 2021 @ 02:19 PM


uilaw71 on March 3, 2021 @ 04:50 PM

The chip in at Augusta wasn’t even Tiger’s greatest shot. Pales in comparison to the hole out at Medinah or the monster putt at the Player’s. My point is this - there are moments yet to come for this team. I called the Michigan game as a going away win on Slack an hour before tipoff. Why? Because we have totally become a team. We were not in January, but that changed at East Lansing. Not to say we will win out, but as iron sharpens iron, our kids woke up to what it means to be a team because of what happened. on March 3, 2021 @ 08:22 PM

Exorcised a lot of demons with that win including beating mich twice in 89 only to have an injured Illini team get upset in the Final Four. Now we see why they’re athletic department tried to dodge us for the original game in February. Great write up- Go Illini!

NC_OrangeKrush on March 4, 2021 @ 10:58 AM

I wouldn't say exorcised yet.. We did beat them down at the end of the season in 89... but we still met them in the Final Four. Maybe we wont - but the exorcism can happen there....

illini_dave34 on March 3, 2021 @ 08:19 PM

this is my favorite post of yours in the last 3 days. mainly because you've had a ton of good ones this season

BriCrozier on March 4, 2021 @ 09:07 AM

There's an interesting story behind that Tiger chip shot in regards to the broadcast: We almost didn't see the ball go in the hole. Verne Lundquist talks about it at 14:45 in this video...

firet92 on March 4, 2021 @ 12:34 PM

There was a sequence where Miller was a glove on his guy. Unbelievable defense. I will have to go back and find it but I sent texts about it at 7:30pm. His guy put on a great move and Adam stayed right with him. Couldn't help but yell "GREAT D"

ILLINI88ME on March 4, 2021 @ 08:53 PM

Robert - as a student I saw some great teams in the 80s. As an alum, I lived for 89, 05. Your first hand stories from one of the greatest wins in Illinois history will forever add to this memory. Thanks for all you do, so glad to have given so little money to help you share such a special season with the rest of us!!

iluvrt on March 4, 2021 @ 10:14 PM

This is almost as much fun as watching the Whiz Kids after I graduated.

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