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Friday, March 25

Illinois runs to the Elite Eight

Brown and Williams lead the way

By Greg Taylor          Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 25, 2005]  ROSEMONT -- Led by superstar junior guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown, Illinois ran past Wisconsin-Milwaukee 77-63 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in five seasons. Williams and Brown each scored 21 points to pace the Illini, who saw all five starters finish in double figures for the game. Milwaukee, the 12th seed in the region, led by former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl, refused to quit and forced Illinois to play until the very end. All five starters for Illinois logged big minutes, with Williams playing 37 minutes and Brown and James Augustine each on the court for 38 minutes. Illinois advances to the regional final on Saturday against Arizona, a 79-78 winner against Oklahoma State.

Coach Bruce Weber knew how important it would be for his two junior guards to have big games on Thursday night against a strong and fast Wisconsin-Milwaukee team. Making the issue even dicier was the fact that senior guard Luther Head tweaked his hamstring on Monday and was noticeably slower on the court. Milwaukee came into the game with the reputation for creating problems for other teams with their full-court press, and they caused Illinois to use timeouts three different times to avoid turnovers.

The game started quickly for both teams on the offensive end, as the two teams combined for 26 points in the first 4 minutes of the game. Milwaukee led early 12-8, before the Illini went on a 13-3 run to grab the lead at 21-15. Several times in the first frame Illinois looked poised to blow out visitors from the north, only to watch the guard-dominated Panthers get a run-out and creep closer. Illinois led just 29-25 as the teams came out of a media timeout with 3 minutes to play in the half, and many of the faithful wearing orange the stands were more than a little nervous. The Illini, however, went on a 7-1 run to claim their first double-digit lead of the game at 36-26. The Illini led by seven at the break, 39-32, and UM-W leading scorer Ed McCants was scoreless.

The Boys in Orange came out of the locker room ready to end the game in a hurry. Williams scored early and often for Illinois, and at the first media timeout of the half, the Illini led by 12 at 51-39. The teams traded buckets over the next four minutes, and Illinois looked in control at 58-45 with just under 12 minutes left. However, UW-M once again refused to quit and went on 6-0 spurt to get the lead down to seven at 58-51.

The Illini responded with a nice run of their own, this one a 12-2 streak that pushed the lead to 70-53 with six minutes to play. Many at the Allstate Arena wondered if this would be the end of the Cinderella story. The answer would eventually be yes, but Milwaukee rallied once again with an 8-0 run and found themselves back within single digits at 70-61 with four minutes left. The Illini finished well and move on to play another day. The final margin of 14 points was their largest win of the NCAA tourney.

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Head and Roger Powell scored 12 points each, while Augustine had 11. The Illini bench did not score in Thursday's game and played a total of just 19 minutes. Weber said afterward how important it would be to get the bench going.

Illinois is now 35-1 on the year and continues to send fans home with smiles on their faces. Saturday, however, will be the toughest game in weeks. Not since the Feb. 1 game at Michigan State will Illinois have faced a team this talented. Destiny is in the hands of Brown, Williams, Augustine and crew. Many from the 2001 squad have reminded this year's team how huge Saturday's game will be.

Illini notes

  • Illinois is now 3-0 all time against UW-Milwaukee.

  • James Augustine had 10 rebounds for the Illini, and that along with his 11 points gave him his second straight double-double.

  • UW-M's Joah Tucker scored 32 points, the most for an Illini opponent this season.

  • The Illini wore their orange jerseys for the second straight NCAA game.

  • The Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon, appeared to be about 65 percent Illinois fans and was a decided home-court advantage for the Illini.

  • Illinois had 20 assists on 28 made baskets. Williams had eight and Head contributed six.

  • Head appeared in his 11th career NCAA game, tying Brian Cook and Sean Harrington for most ever for an Illinois player.

  • Illinois and Arizona played for the 2001 Midwest Regional championship in San Antonio, with the Wildcats winning 87-81 on their way to a runner-up finish in the NCAA tourney.

[Greg Taylor]

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