Illinois wins Big Ten tourney
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[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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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.
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.
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!
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.
famous Blue Man Group performed at halftime and was a big hit with
the United Center crowd.
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.