In a city with two rival baseball teams, Loyola isn’t immune to inter-city rivalries. The university’s athletics, although not professional, have rivalries with other Chicago schools. Like the Cubs and the White Sox, Loyola and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have a rivalry that dates back for more than 20 years to when UIC joined the Horizon League in 1994.
UIC is the only Chicago school the men’s basketball team regularly plays, with the teams continuing their rivalry each year even after Loyola left the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in 2013. The Ramblers haven’t played Chicago State University since 2012 and DePaul University in 2011. The team hasn’t played Northwestern University in the 21st century — although the teams did play a closed exhibition game this preseason.
Since 2004 — the last year schedules are available on Loyola’s athletics website — the Ramblers are 16-10 against the Flames, including a six-game winning streak dating back to the Ramblers’ last year in the Horizon League.
The men’s basketball team extended its winning streak and defeated the Flames 82-61 in Gentile Arena Dec. 2 to bring its record to 8-1. Athletic director Steve Watson said the rivalry is great for all schools involved, not just Loyola.
“I think it is great for the Chicago schools to play against each other,” Watson said. “We try to play as many of those teams [UIC, DePaul and Northwestern] in as many sports as we can.”
The attendance at the UIC game was roughly 3,000 people, which has an effect on the arena’s atmosphere. The close proximity of UIC, and any Chicago school, makes it easier for fans to get to the game and makes for a great fan base for both teams, according to Watson. Head coach Porter Moser said he was excited to have that many fans at the game.
“I hope [fans] are excited to come back,” Moser said. “It is a different arena when it is full.”
Loyola and UIC have a rivalry that dates back to when the two schools competed in the Horizon League. When Loyola left the Horizon League in 2013, the only aspect of the rivalry that changed was the schedule.
“The only thing is we aren’t playing them twice a year, and we aren’t following their scores every night,” Moser said. “We kind of go our own separate ways once the conference goes.”
Athletes such as first-year guard Lucas Williamson, who grew up in the South Loop of Chicago, know how important these rivalry games can be. This game was especially important to Williamson because he knows the coaches of the UIC team and knew if Loyola lost, he would never hear the end of it.
“I knew going in that this was a game I didn’t want to blow, I didn’t want to drop this one because it was going to hang on my head,” Williamson said. “Every time I go home [and go] by UIC knowing that we dropped one to them [would be tough]. [It’s] just more competitive, it gave me a little more edge going into the game.”
Having a geographically close school like Valparaiso University in the Missouri Valley Conference can help create a rivalry, but Watson and Moser both said playing a game against another Chicago team comes with the satisfaction of being the best team.
“There is a pride factor with it,” Moser said. “I think it is great for the city and I wish there would be more teams involved in all this. I think UIC and Loyola, with their history being in the same conference, it just all bodes well for a great rivalry.”
UIC men’s basketball head coach Steve McClain said he feels the same way about the friendly competition as Moser does. Although he has only been a coach at UIC for three seasons, he said he feels the tradition is something he is going to continue.
“Chicago is home to some of the best basketball in the world at every level and we’re proud to be part of that tradition with schools like Loyola and DePaul,” McClain said in a statement to The Phoenix. “There’s a reason we’ve consistently played them and schools like Chicago State since I’ve been at UIC and that’s because we want [to] challenge ourselves against the very best.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Southern Illinois University at home Jan. 17 before heading to Valparaiso, Indiana, to take on Valparaiso University Jan. 21.