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Orange-hot Illini turn Sweet 16

Illinois buries Cincinnati 92-68

By LDN staff          Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 22, 2004]  COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Going into Sunday's contest with the Cincinnati Bearcats, conventional wisdom said that if Illinois played like they did against Murray State on Friday, they would at least have a chance to win. However, never in anyone's wildest imagination could you have expected an outcome like the 92-68 demolition that appeared on the scoreboard. But what was it that REALLY turned the trick? Was it the orange uniforms?

Well, the Illini are something like 8-1 in those babies, with the only loss coming against UNC in a game many felt the Illini should have won.

Was it the Ohio State Buckeye floor? That's right, you read it correctly. Even though the game was played in Value City Arena, the Columbus Blue Jackets' NHL home arena, they shipped in OSU's floor from their nearby Shottenstein Center gym for the NCAA hoops action. You will recall that on the last Sunday of the year, the Illini marched into Columbus on that same floor and promptly won their first outright title in 52 years! The good vibrations were still forthcoming on that floor two Sundays later. We've left a voice message with the Georgia Dome's physical plant manager offering to ship that same Buckeye floor to Atlanta for next weekend's games. Hey, conventional wisdom says to ride something while it's hot!

All right then, was it all the trash talking?

Mostly, it wasn't any of those things. It was a culmination of bringing everything together. It was players believing in their coaches and coaches believing in their players. It was chemistry coming together over the last two months, like you couldn't believe. It was unselfishness cranked up to the highest level possible.

We spoke to Jack Ingram after the contest and asked him why he didn't see much action. He said that the matchups didn't favor him on the floor. He told the coaches that's all right with him... anything for the team. How often do you see that kind of attitude on today's sports landscape?

 

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It was execution of running their stuff almost to perfection. It was tenacious, in-your-face defense with pressure coming at you from all sides for 94 feet and for 40 minutes. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you hit an Illini NCAA-record 63.6 percent from the field and a mere 57.9 percent from 3-point land.

You can also win a few games when you have a 26-4 assists-to-turnovers ratio. And when Deron Williams records the most Illini points ever in an NCAA game at 31, followed by a silky 22 from Roger Powell, and for good measure you get 14 from Dee Brown and another 11 from James Augustine, you're going to beat a lot of people with those numbers.

However, it may have been assistant coach Gary Nottingham who said it best. He told the LDN that coach Weber has been preaching one major thing all season long: Take care of all the little things! Dive on the floor for loose balls, keep possessions alive by tipping them back in or to a teammate, block out on every shot, close out defensively, contest every shot, help every teammate who's in trouble on the defensive end, cash in on your free throws… and if we don't stop now, this article will be a three-volume set!

Sunday's amazing dismantling of the Bearcats was the culmination of all these things coming together at once. Consider the lessons learned. The orange-clad Illini turned sweet 16 on this awesome day in Columbus.

[LDN staff]

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