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Wednesday, Jan. 26

Illinois has the courage!
Ends long Wisconsin streak      
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By Greg Taylor

[JAN. 26, 2005]  Illinois secured an impressive 10-point victory Tuesday night on the road in Madison, Wis., beating the Badgers 75-65. The win stopped the longest home-court winning streak in the nation at an amazing 38 games and helped Illinois move to 20-0 on the season and 6-0 in the conference. Several heroes stepped up for the Illini as the Orange Invasion overcame an eight-point deficit halfway through the second half and closed the game on a 27-9 run to win by double digits.

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.

The second 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!

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We want to break down several key moments in what was the most exciting game of the year for Illini fans:

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.

[Greg Taylor]

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