The 1988-1989 University of Illinois men’s basketball team was electric enough to earn their own nickname that would go down in history as one of college basketball's best.
"The Flyin' Illini."
Even better, the name was given to them by Dick Vitale during the height of his powers at ESPN, and it has stuck ever since. The "Flyin' Illini" moniker probably stuck because the team ended Illinois' 37-year Final Four drought.
Lou Henson, the school's famed head coach, recruited the team entirely from the state of Illinois. Lowell Hamilton, Marcus Liberty and Nick Anderson were all from Chicago. Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle and Stephen Bardo were also raised in the "Prairie State."
The '89 squad won their first 17 games including a 103-92 double overtime victory over No. 17 Georgia Tech that earned the Illini the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
After getting Gill back after missing 12 games with a broken foot, Illinois would finish a game behind Indiana for the Big Ten Championship, but they still earned a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region for the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois began their road to the Final Four in Indianapolis, beating McNeese State in the first round then Ball State in the second to advance to the Sweet 16.
Now in Minneapolis, Illinois trounced Louisville to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1984. Waiting for them were the Syracuse Orangemen. Led by Kenny Battle's 28 points and Nick Anderson's 24, the Illini held on for an 89-86 win to reach their first Final Four since 1952. The "Flyin Illini" were Seattle Bound!
A common foe was waiting for them in the National Semifinal: The Michigan Wolverines. The Illini were 2-0 during the regular season, beating Michigan by double digits twice. However, this time would be different. Led by new head coach, Steve Fisher, and All-American Glen Rice, the Wolverines defeated Illinois 83-81.
Even without a title, the “Flyin’ Illini” one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time.
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