Illinois-Chicago was once flying high against all expectations, but seemed to falter as the conference season began. The Flames managed to get back on track in a classic Chicago slugfest against Loyola.
Ben Averkamp tried to have his Christian Laettner moment. After a driving layup by Gary Talton put the UIC Flames ahead in the final seconds, the senior Loyola forward took a three-quarter court pass at the corner of the arc, turned and fired.
He hit the rim. It didn't go.
UIC walked away with the 61-59 win to break a three-game losing streak and take down the upstart Ramblers. They did it the way they always do, and with the usual cast of characters.
The Flames started the game playing intense defense, and there was nothing that Loyola could do to counter it. After 13 minutes, UIC held a 14-point lead, and they needed it. Once the Ramblers switched into a 1-3-1 zone that cut off the middle of the lane -- where the Flames were, well, on fire -- the game quickly got back to even.
Had UIC not built that cushion on the backs of Talton (14 points, 4 reb.) and Josh Crittle (12 points, 7 boards), this game might have been headed in the other direction.
It is funny that such a matchup like this would almost take a back seat in Chicago on Wednesday night. Across town, high school powerhouses Simeon and Morgan Park were facing off in another classic. And in typical Chicago Public League style, there was a suspension just prior to the game, sitting three of the Simeon players, and making the talent discrepancy between the squads basically nil.
That is what most of the city was keyed in on. They wanted to see the guys who are destined for schools like Duke and their ilk. But they missed one a winner downtown.
UIC and Loyola put on another slugfest, a game style that seemed to be thoroughly encouraged by the guys in stripes. The end result was a game that stayed at 60 possessions per team and limited the production for both squads to just around a point per possession.
But it was the Flames who excelled the most in the slowdown game, despite the penchant for both clubs to put the tempo at a crawl. Maybe it was just a little luck this time, the gift roll that gave Talton's shot the edge to fall in, while Averkamp's fell short.
No, the senior Rambler didn't get his Laettner moment. But it was close.