Best win in Illinois history?
I woke this morning, Easter morning, and couldn’t believe what had happened last night. In what everyone is calling one of, if not THE, best comeback in NCAA tournament history, the Illinois Fighting Illini beat Arizona 90-89 in overtime.
The Illinois Fighting Illini started the season with three goals:
- Win the Big Ten regular season
- Win the Big Ten Tournament, and
- Win a national championship
They have completed the first two goals and are now just two wins away from the third.
How did the Fighting Illini win this game?
- They were out-shot 52 to 45 percent
- They were out-rebounded 37-32
- Arizona scored 8 more points from the free-throw line
- Illinois missed 19 three-point attempts
- Arizona had 8 blocks to Illinois’ 2
Two things did it for them. First, it’s surprising to say in a game where their opponents scored 89 points, but the Illini did it with defense. They converted 17 turnovers (12 of which were steals) into almost 30 easy points.
Second, the big three for Illinois were perfect when they had absolutely no margin for error. Over a seven minute stretch the “three-headed monster” scored 28 points, made plays, had assists, got steals and did everything they had to do to keep this magical season alive.
I’m not a big fan of clichés, but there’s no way to describe this game without using them. It was historic. It was unbelievable. It was epic. It was the best win in Illinois basketball history. As Illinois coach Bruce Weber said, it’s a game that will be replayed many, many times.
The Illini were trailing by 15 points with just over four minutes remaining. They trailed by 8 with one minute to play and in the next 19 seconds got a three-pointer from Luther Head, a steal and a lay-up by Dee Brown and then a steal and three-pointer by Deron Williams to send the game to overtime. In the extra time, they ran out to a six point lead and held on for the one-point victory.
They’re now being called a team of destiny and how can you argue with that label. The Illini now go to the Final Four for the first time in 16 years. Illini Wonk can’t wait to see what they do next.
To get the reaction of the punditry, go to Big Ten Wonk
. He's got a good list. Illini Wonk had planned to post more (and was actually up until 2:30 a.m. posting, but Blogger ate the last one and left me too tired to blog) but a long Easter Day with the family took up the entire day (but I still found time to watch the last ten minutes of the game three more times).
Illini Wonk promises more tomorrow. Ya'll come back, now.