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Wisconsin upends Illini for tourney title

By LDN staff          Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 15, 2004]  I guess it just wasn't meant to be. During Saturday's thrilling 68-66 Wisconsin win over Michigan State, Greg Taylor asked me, Who do you want the Illini to play on Sunday? I told him I wanted coach John Searby and LCC. Greg said that the Big Ten probably wouldn't let me have them! I sure didn't want the Spartans and I really didn't want the Badgers. With all of their beef and size, I just didn't think it was that great of a matchup for us.  [Click here to see pictures of game.]

But give Wisconsin credit, they earned it. They shot better than Illinois did, hit their free throws and played smothering, stifling defense.

Illinois on the other hand, was out of sync, looked a step slow to the ball all day and never seemed to muster any attack or rally. Had it not been for Dee Brown throwing in rainbows from the hash marks, it might have been a lot uglier than the 70-53 final score.

But as many fans rush to the exits, dive off the bandwagon or out of a building, I would say it was just a hiccup. A huge hiccup, I'll grant you… but nothing more and nothing less.

Why do I say that? Didn't the vaunted Duke Blue Devils lose yesterday as well? And didn't Kansas and Texas go down too? I thought I read that Pittsburg lost this weekend somewhere out East. What I'm trying to say is that you are allowed some flexibility when playing three or four games over a short or a long weekend.

I think that the Illini will regroup and be ready for their NCAA opener. After that, anything that happens is all gravy. Some fans like to get caught up in bracketology. And they can make a case for Illinois winning every game and winning the national championship. While I'd love that to happen, I've never been one that likes to get that far ahead of myself. I REALLY like playing them one game at a time. Focus on the game at hand and take care of business.

Should the Illini take that workmanlike attitude with them to Columbus, Ohio, I think it will serve them well. All is not lost. The Illini are alive for at least one more day, and didn't something good happen the last time we visited Columbus? That's right. We won our first outright Big Ten title in 52 years. Let's go back expecting more good results… Seconds, anyone?

Tourney semifinals

The Illini were able to run away from NIT-bound Michigan. The 74-60 margin of victory was Illinois' ninth straight triumph over the Wolverines (I wonder if Bo Schembechler STILL wants Illinois). James Augustine had a great game at a time it was really needed, going for 15 points and rebounds, and Dee Brown continued his inspired play of late as he torched the nets for 21 points. Luther Head joined his teammates in double figures with 12 tallies. Daniel Horton led Michigan with 16 points.


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Post-game comments

Coach Amaker: "Congratulations to Illinois. Coming into the game we recognized how tough they are as a basketball team. Certainly we ran into that. Their perimeter play is outstanding. We think Illinois is one of the better teams in the nation. They have to be one of the hottest teams. We certainly anticipate they will do very well in the postseason… They won the regular season outright. I think when you do those things you're a pretty darned good basketball team."

What a streak

Illinois' 12-game winning streak was the longest since the Flying Illini of 1988-89 reeled off 17 in a row to start their magic season.

It was also the longest current winning streak of any team in any major conference.

Parting shots

Jack Ingram continued his stellar production throughout the weekend, and it has been going on now for the last month. Not bad for a walk-on, huh? Not only that, he's a great kid. I've really enjoyed talking to him and getting his prospective on our post play. I think I would have given him the game ball for his play at critical times in the win over Michigan -- six points, five rebounds, no turnovers in only 14 minutes of action!

I spoke with Michigan assistants and SID people, and they have no idea how Lester Abram hurt his shoulder. He did not play in Illinois' win, and that was a huge factor in the victory.

I spoke to Roger Powell prior to Sunday's contest and he pronounced himself fine and ready to go, but clearly he was not 100 percent.

Dee Brown and Deron Williams made the all-tournament team, but a case could have been made for Luther Head as well.

Illinois drew a No. 5 seed and will play No. 12 Murray State Friday in Columbus, Ohio, most likely around lunch time.

[LDN staff]


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