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Monday, March 14

Illinois wins Big Ten tourney       Send a link to a friend

By Greg Taylor

[MARCH 14, 2005]  CHICAGO -- For the second time in three seasons, the Big Ten tourney champs are the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Coach Bruce Weber's troops beat Wisconsin for the third time this season, 54-43, in front of another sellout crowd at the United Center. The boys in orange went 15-1 in the conference season to win the conference outright and followed it up with the conference title. They become the first Big Ten team to win an outright title and the conference tourney in the same season since 2000, when Michigan State won both titles. The Spartans went on to win the national title three weeks later in April of 2000.

Sunday was not a pretty game, as Illinois locked down the Badgers defensively and were in control for the most of the game. Big men Roger Powell and James Augustine outplayed Wisconsin's interior duo of Alando Tucker and Mike Wilkinson, and Luther Head once again made some big outside shots when it mattered most. The 43 points allowed was the best defensive effort of the year, besting the 45 points allowed against Cincinnati on New Year's Eve, and seemed the perfect cap for a weekend where the Illini dominated with their defense and rebounding.

Illinois is now 32-1 on the season, and on Sunday set an all-time record for most wins in a season, besting the 31 wins of the 1989 Final Four squad. Illinois' mantra after the game was the old cliche -- take each NCAA game one at a time. But for most fans, their cry is clear as well -- six more wins, baby!

The weekend in Chicago was really all Illini all the time, and Sunday was no different, as a sea of orange once again greeted the nation's No. 1 team.

Powell led the way with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Augustine just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards. Powell, the senior from Joliet who is a licensed minister and preaches in his spare time, grabbed five offensive rebounds, and looks to be raising the level of his game over the last three days. Augustine, the junior from Mokena, had 31 rebounds over the three days and was named tournament MVP. Head joined him on the all-tourney team, along with Badgers Tucker and Zack Morley and Minnesota's Vincent Greer.

Sunday was also Illinois' fifth title game appearance in the eight years of the tournament and the third straight year they were playing in the Sunday game. Illinois is an amazing 16-6 in conference tourney history, by far the best record of any Big Ten team.

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Taylor's tidbits

  • Weber is now 5-1 in the conference tourney and has passed former coach Bill Self for the best conference tourney winning percentage. Self was 5-2 in his three seasons at Illinois.

  • Dee Brown went scoreless for the first time this season but played strong defense and was praised by CBS analyst Billy Packer during the post-game interview. Packer said, "Don't worry, Dee -- just keep shooting!" How different were these comments compared to the Frank Williams incident in 2002.

  • Weber did have one complaint as he addressed the crowd after the game, as he said, "We are running out of room for all of these trophies in the office." What a great problem to have, coach!

  • The United Center continues to be the Illini's home away from home, as Illinois has now won 14 straight in the house that Michael built. The Illini last lost at the U.C. in March of 2001 to Indiana in the conference tourney semifinals.

  • The famous Blue Man Group performed at halftime and was a big hit with the United Center crowd.

  • Huge kudos to Big Ten Assistant Commissioner Rich Falk for taking 30 minutes Sunday afternoon before the game to talk about the state of officiating in the Big Ten and the NCAA. Many of you know the LDN has been critical at times with the men in stripes, but Falk helped us understand all of the complexities involved with officials and big-time college basketball. Much more to come on this conversation in the form of an article in the weeks ahead.

[Greg Taylor

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