PASSING THE TEST
If Illinois goes on to win the Big Ten, coach Lou Henson may look back at last Saturday's 75-65 victory over Indiana as the one that proved his team's mettle. Earlier in the week the nation's No. 1 ranking had dropped by Champaign-Urbana for a brief visit before Minnesota upset the Illini 69-62 in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Illinois's first loss of the season was also its first game without three-point specialist Kendall Gill, who fractured the fifth metatarsal bone of his left foot four days earlier against Georgia Tech.
As if losing Gill for eight weeks wasn't depressing enough, forward Nick Anderson was helped off the floor with an apparent knee injury late in the first half against Indiana, and the Hoosiers held a 35-25 lead at intermission.
But Henson marshaled his troops for a stirring comeback. The rally was led by forward Kenny Battle, who scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, and, yes, Anderson, who got 17 of his 21 points even with a painful twisted knee. In the first 8:46 of the second half, Illinois outscored the Hoosiers 26-9. "They were able to jack it up a gear, maybe two gears, in the second half," said Indiana coach Bob Knight. "That's the mark of a good team."
Illinois was back on track, and Indiana's 13-game winning streak was over—not least because of Hoosier shooting star Jay Edwards's sudden inability to hit from the foul line. The Big Ten leader in free throw percentage last year (.917), he went a shocking 1 for 6 in the final 4:14 against the Illini. Still, Edwards's futility at the line didn't upset Knight nearly as much as a couple of soft Edwards passes that Illinois converted into breakaway slams.
"I just didn't think he was playing at a pace that was anywhere near the pace of the game," Knight said. "He isn't ever going to be a really good basketball player until he learns that. It's just a good thing that he's playing for a man with extraordinary patience."
Huh? Well, Knight realistically can't get too angry with his squad of over-achievers. Only two of Knight's teams, the juggernauts of 1975-76 and '76-77, ever won as many as 13 in a row (during one stretch over those two seasons, the Hoosiers had a 34-game winning streak). And with the Michigan and Illinois road games behind them, the Hoosiers, 6-1 in the Big Ten and 16-5 overall, are in fine shape.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
West Virginia, which turned out to be the surprise of the college football season, also has a sleeper in hoops. The Mountaineers had a 15-2 record and a 14-game winning streak after their 98-82 win over Duquesne on Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh, and they are starting to dream of becoming the first West Virginia team to make it to the Final Four since 1960, Jerry West's senior season.
"I like this team," says coach Gale Catlett. "We can press you, run you, zone you when we have to. And we have great quickness."