Illinois started the game strong,
opening up early six-point leads on two occasions. But Wisconsin
battled back on the strength of strong 3-point shooting. The Badgers
made an amazing five 3-point shots in the first 10 minutes of the
game, and those 15 points helped the Badgers stay in the game. The
story of the first half for Illinois was the strong play of Deron
Williams and Luther Head, who each had nine before the break and
helped offset serious foul problems for the Illini "bigs" (James
Augustine played only four minutes in the first half). Illinois led
by seven, at 35-28, with about five minutes to go in the half but
didnít score again in the half, and Wisconsin closed within two at
the break, 35-33.
half began like gangbusters for the Badgers, as they used the
one-two inside attack of Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker to take
control of the game. Illinois, for the first time this season,
looked frustrated and in danger of possibly being blown out by
Wisconsin. Down 53-48, Illinois drew an out-of-bounds play for Roger
Powell to get a dunk -- he was just about tackled on the play and
Wisconsin recovered and nailed a 3 at the other end of the court for
their largest lead of the game, at 56-48. Coach Bruce Weber
commented on this swing of events after the game and wondered aloud
how his team might respond.
The response was historical --
literally. What took place over the final 10 minutes of the game was
an 18-point swing for the Illini that propelled them to victory at
Wisconsin for the first time since early in the Lon Kruger era
(1998). Down the stretch, it was huge shots by key reserves (see
Jack Ingram) that rallied the Boys in Orange and strong rebounding
by Augustine. One other huge key to the victory was free-throw
shooting: Illinois made 15 of their first 16 and finished 17-20 on
the night, while Wisconsin made just five of 12 and only one of two
in the second half.
Weber spoke afterward about an event
leading up to the game. He shared: "I donít want to get in trouble
or anything, but one of the things we did was give each player a
T-shirt with the chief on it. And the word above the chief was
"courage" -- and we challenged the guys: Did they have the courage
to win this game?" The answer was a resounding "yes!" And the
Illinois Victory Train rolls on for another week!
[to top of second column in
We want to break down several key
moments in what was the most exciting game of the year for Illini
Key point No. 1 -- Illinois is up
35-28 with about four minutes to go in the half. After a defensive
stop, Roger Powell takes a fadeaway 15-foot jumper in the first 10
seconds of the possession. The shot rims out and Wisconsin starts a
5-0 run to crawl within two at the half: 35-33.
Key point No. 2 -- Wisconsin is up
56-48 with 10 minutes to go in the game and looks like they might
blow out Illinois. Wisky has back-to-back possessions with the
chance to extend the lead to double digits. Illinois buckles down on
defense, and Williams finds little-used Richard McBride on the wing
for a 3-point shot. The basket stops the Wisconsin run and begins a
27-9 run to end the game for Illinois.
Key point No. 3 -- Down 58-55,
Illinois is trying to catch the Badgers and get some momentum. Who
will step up for Illinois? Head, Williams, Brown or Powell? How
about Jack Ingram -- who nails back-to-back 3-point shots to help
the Illini go from down three to up three in about 45 seconds.
Key point No. 4 -- After three
straight buckets down low by the Badgers, Wisky is up again at
64-61, but the No. 1 team in the nation refuses to quit. Augustine
hits two free throws, Ingram hits two more free throws, and then two
straight dunks by Augie lead Illinois to an 8-0 run and give the
Illini control of the game for good.
Coach Weber said after the game that
the team was more excited about this win than any other victory this
year, including the Wake Forest win back in December.
The challenge now for Illinois is
not to overlook a much-improved Minnesota team this Saturday at the
Assembly Hall. The game is part of a 100th anniversary celebration
of Illinois basketball, and tip is set for 1:30 p.m. The game can be
seen on WCIA.