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Monday, Jan. 19

Illinois outscores Hawkeyes     Send a link to a friend

By Greg Taylor

[JAN. 19, 2004]  The Fighting Illini evened their conference record at 2-2 Saturday with a high-powered 88-82 victory over the visitors from the northwest, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Illinois again struggled for large portions of the game and could not seem to get consistent defensive stops at key points of the game. Illinois' best post player, James Augustine, played just 14 minutes because of foul trouble. Iowa had several fast-break points that were uncontested and led coach Bruce Weber to destroy a white board on the sidelines.

That said, the offense did respond in a great way and, led by Roger Powell's 20 points and Nick Smith's 18, Illinois avoided losing to Iowa in Champaign for just the second time in 17 years. Iowa's lone victory in Champaign during that span came during the 1999 season, when Illinois was just 3-13 in conference play.

Illinois' sophomore guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown were also huge in this game. Williams scored 17 points and was really the go-to guy down the stretch. He played 38 minutes despite battling fatigue related to his recent injury and did his best to slow down Iowa's Pierre Pierce. Brown also logged 38 minutes and finished with a game-high eight assists to go along with 14 points and a team-high five rebounds.

Smith, who recently had a streak of 20 straight free throws broken, made all 10 of his free-throw attempts and finds himself in the top five of the conference leaders for free-throw percentage.

Iowa was led in scoring by Pierce's 26 points and 20 points from senior Brody Boyd.

 

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Saturday was a game of streaks. Illinois looked to be in control with a 26-17 lead halfway through the first half. But Iowa then went on a 14-0 run to claim a 31-26 lead, which they parlayed into a five-point halftime lead at 43-38. The Illini started hot in the second half, scoring the first 10 points of the half and again putting themselves in good position. But, Iowa refused to play dead, and the game was back and forth the rest of the way. Finally, in the last two minutes, Illinois was able to hit key shots and knock down free throws to seal the victory. Illinois went 9-10 from the line in the last minute of the game to keep the Hawkeyes at bay.

Illinois returns to action Wednesday night in Champaign against Penn State. Game time is set for 8 p.m., and the game can be seen on WCIA-TV.

Saturday's game was a must win for the Illini -- and they won. But make no mistake, this victory does not cover up serious problems with the team. Among them, Illinois is not consistent on defense or from the free-throw line, and they still look out of sync on offense. With 12 games to go in the regular season, the team must come together and start to play as one unit. Wednesday could be the next step.

[Greg Taylor]

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