UIC upsets Illinois at the United Center

By Etheria Modacure

The University of Illinois-Chicago Flames may have pulled out one of their biggest wins in school history at the United Center on Dec. 18. The Flames upset the #12 ranked University of Illinois Fighting Illini 57-54.

Flames point guard Robo Kreps led UIC with 15 points in the game and started the contest with nine quick points by making all three of his 3-point attempts.

The Flames jumped out to an 18-8 lead to start in the first half and used a zone defense to limit the Fighting Illini to shooting 32.7 percent throughout the game.

“We tried to throw a little curveball [in the game] today with the 1-3-1 zone and it was pretty effective,” said UIC Head Coach Howard Moore. “I thought it really got them stagnated and put them in a position where they weren’t really sure of what to do and where to get there shots.”

This was the 14th meeting between the two sister colleges of Illinois. The last time they met was on December 9, 2006. The Illini held a 12-1 all-time series lead and had won 10 straight against the Flames. This was the first time UIC defeated Illinois since Nov. 29, 1990, when they won 71-60 in Champaign, Ill.

Moore referenced the team’s energy at the beginning of the game and how it remained constant throughout the teams’ matchup with the #12 ranked Illini. The Flames were coming off a tough lost to the Northern Illinois University Huskies on Dec. 14 in DeKalb. The Huskies defeated UIC 80-78.

UIC were big underdogs coming into the game which was a home game for them but Illini fans made the United Center feel like a home away from home for Illinois.

Given the Flames hadn’t been able to close out their last four games; Moore said this victory was a testament to his players that they didn’t allow another victory to slip between their fingers.

The Illini didn’t take a lead in the game until midway through the second half when guard D.J. Richardson hit a three-pointer to put Illinois on top 43-41. This was part of a 12-0 run by the Illini which gave the team its largest lead, 49-41with 7:30 remaining.

From there the Flames began to put more pressure on Illini point guard DeMetri McCamey and Richardson. Richardson only scored two points after three-pointer in the second half and finished with 13 points for the game. McCamey scored 16 points, eight in the second half but only attempted four shots.

“They didn’t put their head downs, they stayed with it,” Moore said. “It just a tremendous amount of character for them to just sustain the run, keep clam and stay with the game plan.”

Moore said he was impressed with the job his team was able to do on McCamey. He said he used to have nightmares of what the point guard used to do the University of Wisconsin Badgers when he was its Assistant head coach.

UIC didn’t take another  lead in the game until center Darrin Williams was fouled by Illini freshmen guard Jereme Richmond with 1:10 remaining. Williams hit both free throws to give the Flames a 53-52 lead. Williams scored the eventual game-winning basket on a tip-in of Kreps’ missed layup with   : 23 left in the game.

Kreps, who is a senior at UIC said the victory over Illinois is a springboard for the players as they began Horizon League conference play on Dec. 30 against Youngstown State University.

“Coach [Moore] has been harping on us because he knows how good we can be,” Kreps said. “I think we proved to ourselves [today] that we can beat [any team], no matter who it is. In our conference I think we can take it to Butler or Cleveland State.”

For Illinois, this loss could very well be the wake-up call the team needed after not doing well in practices and victories against Northern Colorado University and Oakland University according to head coach Bruce Weber. He said that the team should be able to look at this game as a reason to change their outlook and their approach to practice.

Weber referenced the Illini’s inability to sustain momentum against UIC after the Flames began mounting a comeback in the second half during Illinois’ 12-0 run. He said the players began worrying about losing while the Flames continued to make efficient plays towards the end of the game.

“The loss hurts, but it shows us that we have things to work on and that you can be beat on any given [day],” McCamey said.

McCamey said the team previously lost their sense of urgency in practice and said it’s on the seniors to rally the team to not hang their heads too low because of the upset.

“You can either go up or down from this loss,” McCamey said. “That’s the thing we’ve got to learn is to come out and compete and win ball games.”