These were the baddest of the bad boys - the survivors
in this bang-'em-up series of top hoops conflicts - even
if one of Utah's players was a young woman named Larie Stewart,
whose unenviable task when she entered the game was to try
to defend Illinois' bruiser, Craig Kincaid, in the low post.
The rosters on either side featured a mixture of young and
old, big and small alike - much like any high-level, hard-fought
YMCA pickup basketball game you'd be likely to see nearly
anywhere around the country on any given Sunday afternoon.
Utah's lineup, in addition to Stewart, included Jim Dykas,
Mike Tucker, Justin Berube, Wes Arbon, and Spencer Tinker.
Illinois was led by the super-speedy Michael Henderson and
the ultra-bulky Kincaid, and they were backed-up by Michael
Carroll, Jason Pilon, Costellano Huffman, and Brad Szcziniski.
Three at a time, they went at each other in the early going
of a game that featured a fair amount of griping to the
ref - which prompted him to bring in another official to
help him call the game. (It's not a basketball game unless
at least one player or another is jawing at the ref.)
Though the game started a little slowly, by midway through
the first half the tough Team Illinois had pushed a 7-4
margin to 18-4. Both teams tried to establish themselves
inside, where there was lots of physical contact. Both teams
also exhorted their own players to "work the offense," which
in this three-on-three clash consisted mainly of basic picks-and-rolls,
and inside-outside ball movement: throw it inside, and if
nothing develops there, kick if outside for the three-pointer.
By halftime, Illinois had managed to extend its lead by
only one more point, and the score stood at 24-9.
At the start of the second half, Illinois' two stars took
over. Utah simply did not have anyone who could stay with
the lightning-quick Henderson, whose excellent handle and
speed made him impossible to guard as he slashed repeatedly
to the front of the rim. And if Henderson didn't finish,
Kincaid would do it for him. He was simply a monster - unstoppable
- inside. And he stepped out and hit a couple threes, too.
If the Transplant Games kept stats for individual scoring,
he'd likely be an all-time recordholder.
Though the Utah crowd was begging for its team to stay
in the game, the early fervor understandably waned once
Illinois stepped up their halftime lead and methodically
pulled away. With 7:51 to go in the game, and Illinois leading
40-18, Utah called timeout to slow their momentum and talk
strategy. From the Illinois huddle, Henderson could be heard
telling his teammates, "This is what we've been working
for," and one of his teammates answered, "Yeah! All those
Monday morning workouts!"
Utah scored the first bucket following the timeout and
Utah crowd perked up a bit, but at the 2:00 mark the score
was 44-26, and the game was out of reach.
Though the score wasn't close through much of the game,
this remained an extremely intense contest to the end. Every
shot was contested, everyone bore down on defense, and occasionally
frustrations and tempers flared. But when the horn sounded,
with the clock showing the final score of 49-29, there were
more than enough heartfelt handshakes, hugs, and back-pats
to go around.