In reality, it may have been just what
the doctor ordered, at least early, as Illinois exploded out of the
gate to an early 17-5 lead behind strong shooting from guard Deron
Williams, who made his first three shots of the game, including two
from long distance. Junior Roger Powell continued his early
struggles, picking up two quick fouls, but Weber showed confidence
in the Joliet native, allowing him to play through the foul trouble,
and Powell responded with two nice slams off feeds from Williams and
the reinstated Luther Head. Things were looking good, and one had to
wonder, "Was all well once again for the Illini?" The answer to this
question would prove disappointing.
Northwestern refused to roll over and
play dead, as they went on their strong 20-8 run to catch the Illini
and tie the game at 25-all at the 7:47 mark of the first half. The
Cats got long-distance bombs from three different players during
this run and found themselves with new life as the crazies at
Welsh-Ryan went nuts. Lisle's T.J. Parker was able to use his
quickness early in the game to get to the hoop and cause problems
for the Illini. His seven early points kept Northwestern in the
game. They also received strong play from Vedran Vukusic, who scored
eight points during the run. The Cats even took the lead at 27-25 on
a Vukusic layup before Dee Brown hit back-to-back 3s, James
Augustine converted a hook shot, and Brown connected on an NBA 3 to
stake Illinois to a 36-27 lead. The teams traded buckets late in the
half, and at the break Illinois led by nine, 38-29. Illinois was led
in scoring during the first half by Dee Brown, who paced them with
14 points. Illinois looked to be in good shape as they headed into
Oh, what a difference a half can make!
Northwestern took a page from Illinois and jumped out quickly in the
second half, going on a 15-5 run and claiming a 44-43 lead at the
15:50 mark of the game. Illinois appeared as if they were still in
the locker room, and once again they found themselves in a very
tight game in a hostile environment. Davor Duvancic was huge for the
Cats coming out of the break, as he scored the first seven points of
the half for the Cats and led them in scoring during the final 20
Illinois continued to launch 3-pointers
in the second half instead of pushing the ball inside, and
Northwestern found themselves ahead at 56-52 with 7:42 to go, while
Illinois looked like they were destined for a 1-2 Big Ten start. By
contrast, 6-2 Jitim Young was able to get the hoop on a consistent
basis during this time and Illinois seemed to have no answer.
[to top of second column in this
called timeout to try and settle the troops, but Illinois continued
to be unable to get good shots against a tough Wildcat zone.
Illinois got to the foul line several times, but they were unable to
convert. Smith missed two, Powell missed a pair and Luther Head was
able to make only one of two. With 5:12 to go, Illinois trailed by
five, and it looked like it would take a perfect final five minutes to
avoid the loss.
When Duvancac made a 3 that hit the
rim, bounced straight up in the air and then found its way into the
hoop, it looked like it just was not meant to be for the Illini on
this night. With 3:11 to play, Illinois trailed by eight and
couldn't even get into their offense.
Illinois had chances late but couldn't
make free throws or 3s down the stretch, and Northwestern cruised to
a 70-60 victory. As the crowd began to chant "overrated," it looked
as if they were right on the money.
Illinois is in trouble and I'm not sure
they are prepared to find the solutions to their problems. Just one
week ago, the talk was about a 5-0 conference start and another Big
Ten conference title. Right now, I not sure Illinois can beat Iowa
at home this Saturday. WOW -- what a difference a week makes.
Illini news and
--The win broke Illinois' eight-game
winning streak against Northwestern. The Illini had not lost at
Northwestern since the Lou Henson era!
--Illinois has fared well in Welsh-Ryan
arena in past seasons, especially on defense. Illinois held the Cats
to an average of 40 points per game in victories during the 2000,
2001 and 2002 season. The 70 points Illinois gave up were the most
Northwestern scored at home against the Illini in a decade.
--Last season, the teams met twice at
the United Center, both Illinois victories, but didn't play at
either the Assembly Hall or Welsh-Ryan in an odd scheduling quirk.
--Nick Smith's streak of consecutive
free throws made ended at 20. Smith made two free throws early in
the second half before missing to end the streak.
--Illinois only shot one free throw in
the first half, missing it, and could not make a free throw in the
second half, almost, making just 6-of-14 and missing on two
different one-and-one opportunities. For the game, Illinois shot a
terrible 6-of-15 from the line -- 40 percent. The junior high teams
in Logan County do better than that from the line.
returns to action Saturday morning against the 2-1 Iowa Hawkeyes.
The game is set for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN.