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Flames-Panthers Rematch

December 24, 2003 Columns No Comments



Illinois-Chicago at UW-Milwaukee: A heated rivalry reunited

by Nick Dettmann

MILWAUKEE – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther fans can remember the beating UWM gave to Butler in the Horizon League conference championship game last season. But not many will recall how they got to that all-important game.

On March 8, 2003, the Horizon League semi-final game pitted the host UW-Milwaukee Panthers against the Illinois-Chicago Flames. Two teams and two coaches that hate each other gritted out the most exciting game of the tournament as UWM pulled away with a 75-73 win in Milwaukee last year.

Now, a new season and new teams, well for one of them for that matter, saw the two teams reunite in the opening conference game for both schools. Illinois-Chicago, who returned all five of their starters from that squad last year made their annual visit to Milwaukee to take on the Panthers.

Early on, it was much like how the intense rivalry was meant to be as each team punched, clawed and roughed each other up. But after a big run mid-way through the second half, the Panthers were able to deliver the loud first round punch with a convincing 78-62 win last night from the U.S. Cellular Arena in front of 4,089 spectators.

The three meetings last year were simply dog fights right from start to finish. UIC won the first meeting last season at the UIC Pavilion 102-92. Then, the two meetings in Milwaukee were won by the Panthers by a total of five points.

“I thought it would be a close game and very physical and it started off just like that,” UWM’s Dylan Page said. “Punch for punch, blow for blow, it was just back and forth in the first half for the most part.

“It’s that type of rivalry it has become now. I think us and UIC have a much more intense one than I think anyone else does. It’s a game that is fun for the fans to watch.”

In the first 10 minutes of the game, it was that tight, physical match-up that was anticipated as neither team led by more than five points. But with the Flames up 18-17 with 11:51 to go, the Panthers reeled off nine straight points to take a 26-18 lead with 8:28 to go.

The bad blood began to show mid-way through the half as Cedrick Banks and Dylan Page collided, leaving Banks and Page with heavy-duty bandages.

“I was trying to come off an up-screen,” Page said. “We just took the wrong paths and collided.”

For the remainder of the first half, UIC could not muster themselves back into within six points and would go into the locker room trailing by seven. But they did get a huge momentum booster as the horn sounded.

Banks would fire a long-range three-point jumper, but Richard Lesko would get the rebound and do a nifty reverse put-back as the horn sounded.

But the second half drew some early jitters from the Panthers sideline. UIC would go on a quick 7-2 run in the first three minutes of the half, forcing UWM head coach Bruce Pearl to call not one, but two time-outs.

“Early in the second half, for whatever reason, we didn’t have it and they came out sharp,” Pearl said. “I called two timeouts prepared to call five timeouts. I just didn’t want to give up the lead. I never call a time-out.

“I felt like we needed to sure some things up and hang onto the lead. They hung in there an took a real solid punch from them early and I think that was the key.”

After that second time-out, with the score tied at 46 with 17:04 to go, the Panthers woke up and went on a 20-6 run over the next eight plus minutes to put the game out of reach.

“It was an embarrassing trip, very embarrassing,” UIC head coach Jimmy Collins said. “But you got to give credit where credit is due. They were tougher, more athletic and they were awfully dog-gone quick.

“They just beat us in every way. Good effort on their part, very poor on ours.”

For UWM, it is their first of three very important conference games that will be played at home without the students having class.

“We feel very badly that we got to play three very important conference games (tonight, Jan. 5 against Detroit and Jan. 8 against Butler) when the students aren’t here,” Pearl said. “I work for the student body and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. These guys are student-athletes and for their friends not to see them is unfortunate.

“It wasn’t ideal,” Pearl said about playing such a big conference game so early in the season. “I thought the crowd was terrific again tonight. My athletic director Bud Haidet has tried to help me take issue with our conference as it relates to our conference schedule that we have been handed. But you got to play the games.”

The second installment of this season series will be a much awaited one. The two will reunite on Thursday, Feb. 5 in Chicago in which UIC will play their second consecutive big conference game as they will play at Butler five days earlier.

     

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