By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) A few years ago, when rumors were swirling about Missouri potentially jumping from the Big 12 to Jim Delany’s favorite league, there was one B1G reason why I didn’t want it to happen.
In many ways, of course, Mizzou made perfect geographic and competitive sense for the Big Ten – certainly much more than Rutgers and Maryland. However, as a longtime lover of the annual Christmastime clash between the Illini and Tigers down in St. Louis, the last thing I wanted to see was college basketball’s most electric nonconference match-up to turn into two run-of-the-mill conference ones.
Call me selfish, if you will. But, either way, you could certainly call me relieved when Mizzou-to-the-Big-Ten didn’t happen. And at 4:30 p.m. today, you’ll also be able to call me excited when I’m in the stands at the Scottrade Center for my first Braggin’ Rights game since attending back-to-back battles in 2001 and 2002.
At that time, Ilinois was in Years 2 and 3 of what would become a nine-year winning streak over Missouri, with the No. 9 Illini topping the No. 8 Tigers 72-61 in ’01 and No. 12 Illinois whipping No. 11 Mizzou 85-70 in 2002.
Those were the days. These, however, are not for Illini Nation with Mizzou currently enjoying a four-year winning streak of its own, something that John Groce’s Illini (9-2) will be hoping to snap (10-0) starting at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2. As you prep for the big game, I thought I’d share a few of my greatest memories from Braggin’ Rights past.
Best Game: In 1988, the No. 5 Flyin’ Ilini fell far behind No. 10 Missouri late in the first half before the explosive Kenny Battle sparked a furious comeback that eventually led to an epic 87-84 Illinois victory and helped set the early stage for the team’s eventual Final Four run.
Worst Game: Perhaps it would be best to call it the “most painful” since, as games go, it was actually a great one. Either way, the contest I refer to is the 1993 clash during which exhausted Illini freshman Kiwane Garris – an 80 percent free throw shooter – famously missed two foul shots with no time left in the second overtime. With new life, Mizzou then went on to win 108-107 in triple OT.
Favorite Coach to Beat: Quin Snyder, of course. Hair ye, hair ye.
Favorite Player to Watch: Loved Kenny. Adored Kiwane. And reveled in seeing Dee. But my favorite Illini to watch compete in Braggin’ Rights was, without a doubt, Frank Williams. Most memorably, in that aforementioned 2001 game, Frankie poured in 16 of his 22 points in the second half, including a stretch of four consecutive field goals to power Illinois to victory. During that run, I still recall Illini fans around me shouting, “We’re winning because we have Frankie Williams, and you don’t!”
Favorite Venue: Since 1994, Braggin’ Rights has always been played in the same building, of course. But, amusingly, it’s had three different names in just 19 years: Savvis Center, Kiel Center and these days, Scottrade. I think I liked Kiel the best.
Favorite Benefit: Christmas is better with a Braggin’ Rights win. It just is. And here’s to hoping for plenty of cheer this year. After all, Missouri fans are due for some coal in their stockings.