I can't believe Illinois beat UNLV on Tuesday.

In fact, I don't believe it. I haven't slept much in the past 36 hours, so I assume I'm hallucinating these mental images of Ray Rice gutting an entire team of Runnin' Rebels, and then devouring their warm entrails in their face as they bled out.


Did I mention that Ray Rice will cut you?

I should probably stop publishing on the subject, because as long as Ray Rice flies under the radar, people will keep underestimating this team. Just like people continue to underestimate Ray Rice.

Besides, like I said, I'm pretty sure there's no way it actually happened. Illinois was terrible in Las Vegas. Tracy Abrams couldn't buy a bucket. Neither could Jon Ekey. Tons of lay-ups bonged* off the rim. 

Everyone missed from three except for Ray and (surprisingly?) Nnanna Egwu, who buried his second and third career three-pointers as a stunned Rebel team grunted a collective “Hruh?”

Somehow, the Illini outrebounded UNLV 41-40, despite Roscoe Smith grabbing 13 boards, and Khem Birch 10.

John Groce was especially impressed by the freshmen. But it was probably more to do with their attitude than their statistics.

You know what it was? It was fucking RAY-VON-TAY Rice. He just refused to lose. He picked the team up, put it on his back, and ran it to the rim.

Let's "do the numbers," as they say on public radio. 25 points, 10 rebounds (three offensive), 4 steals, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 9-20 FG, 3-6 3FG, 4-4 FT and THIRTY-EIGHT minutes. (JoeBert was next most played, with 30. Ekey and Abrams played 28 each.)

Jaylon Tate shouldn't be overlooked, though, in the wake of Ray's blinding light.

Some of us still remember The Hammer Dunk, Efrem Winters' amazing and tragically non-televised inbound slam against Minnesota, circa 1984.

Well, Joe Bertrand's lob slam at the Thomas & Mack was better. I saw both, and there's no reason to give Joe the comparative nod except to convey a Pretty Fucking Powerful statement about JoeBert's dunk.

I don't know what it looked like on the boob tube, but IlliniProductionsHD's Weston Carter captured it in digital frames from the opposite baseline. He played it back frame by frame for me and the Vegas TV photog we sat with. Joe's arm grabs the ball at the side of the backboard.

I have no idea how he got it all the way to the rim from… I'd guess seven feet away. In fact, I don't believe it. Until I see that evidence again, I'm going to have to conclude that I imagined everything.

I pleaded with Derrick Burson to get those frames published on FightingIllini.com, as with (in-house lead photographer) Mark Jones's montage from last game.

We'll see.

In the meantime, it's the holiday season. And Illini fans have the gift of Rayvonte Rice. He's like Santa, or Satan, or Screwtape: Evidently, there are still some people who don't believe in him.

I've seen it with my own eyes. I'm still not sure it's real.

In this age of enlightenment, it's hard to believe in near-mythical figures. Vegas is an especially odd setting for a Promethean legend, or even a modern John Henry.

I'm godless myself. But I can't deny the evidence. I believe in Ray Rice.

*Speaking of which, I found an enormous bag of marijuana as I walked across town. At least I think it was enormous. (I didn't hallucinate this find. It's just that I don't smoke pot, so I'm not really sure what amount constitues a shitload. I think it was probably a shitload.) No one came after me, guns ablazing, after I picked it up.

Not being quite sure what to do with it, I stuffed it in a little hiding place. I can't wait for the next time I go to Vegas (the last time was an Illini game in November 2004). I'll be tickled pink if it's still there.