IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery neither needs nor wants a history lesson about his program’s futility in Champaign, Ill.
The Hawkeyes have beaten Illinois just once since 1987, and that was a victory against the last-place Illini in 1999. Iowa is 1-22 over that span, losing by an average of 12.2 points.
Iowa has lost 11 in a row at the State Farm Center, formerly known as the Assembly Hall. Historically, Illinois owns a 61-14 home record against Iowa. Both times the Hawkeyes invaded under McCaffery, they lost by double digits.
But there are few similarities with either team and their predecessors, and McCaffery was quick to establish that mindset Friday morning.
“I don’t think anybody pays any attention to what happened 11 years ago,” McCaffery said.
No. 15/12 Iowa (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) actually has won two consecutive games against Illinois (13-8, 2-6), which had taken a series record seven straight before the recent reversal. The Hawkeyes are much improved over their previous editions, and Illinois has the Big Ten’s longest current losing streak at six games.
But two years ago, Iowa rolled into Champaign with consecutive wins over ranked teams. Illinois was saddled with a six-game losing streak. The Fighting Illini rebounded by beating the Hawkeyes by 11.
Again, another history lesson for McCaffery, one he says has no bearing on Saturday’s game.
“I don’t think that matters at all,” McCaffery said. “I think we have tremendous respect for this program. They were in the NCAA tournament last year. They were ranked a couple of weeks ago. They lost to some good teams in our league.”
Illinois’ offense has crumbled in its six-game losing skid. Only once have the Fighting Illini scored more than 62 points, and that was in a 95-70 pounding at Wisconsin. Twice Illinois has scored 46 points or less in the streak, including a 43-point performance at Northwestern.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball better than we’re shooting it right now,” Illinois Coach John Groce said. “I think our guys are more capable than they’ve shown at this point, some of them. Some of them will snap out of it and have a good game or two.
“We’ve got to be a lot more consistent.”
Illinois ranks 11th in Big Ten scoring at 67.5 points. Drake transfer and Champaign native Rayvonte Rice leads the Illini with 16.7 points a game. He was shut out at Ohio State but scored 20 in a 56-46 loss at Indiana on Sunday. Rice, a red-shirt junior, has become Illinois’ only consistent scoring threat.
“He’s needs some help,” Groce said. “I don’t think there’s anything (more) he can do at this point. I do want him aggressive. We need some guys to be a little bit more consistent with their shot making than what we’ve done at this juncture.”
The 6-foot-4 Rice has shed 35 pounds from his Drake days and is much better defender. He scored 14 and 23 points against Iowa in games his freshman and sophomore years, respectively.
“I thought he was tremendous at Drake,” McCaffery said. “To me, he’s in incredible shape physically. I think he’s really committed to himself to getting in the weight room. He’s really powerful. But his game is the same in terms that he can shoot the 3 for range, he can put it on the deck either way. He can post up. He can play in traffic. He rebounds the ball. He does a lot of things to help your team win. He’s one of the leading scorers in our league.”
But Rice didn’t win those games against Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t won in Champaign this millennium. One of those streaks will break Saturday, but not both.
What’s more important for Iowa is to move past Tuesday’s 71-69 overtime loss to Michigan State. It just so happens winning in Champaign would be an extra benefit.
“The next one’s always the biggest one,” Iowa junior Aaron White said. “We’ve got to get on the winning side in Champaign.”
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