Illini Wonk
Saturday, March 19, 2005
  How Sweet it is
The Illinois Fighting Illini march into the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament with a 71-59 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack. The win gives them 34, which is a single-season record for a Big Ten team, and sends them back to Chicago where two wins earns a place in the Final Four.

The two dominant storylines following the game were the play of James Augustine and the good performance (finally) from the Illini. Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune said Augustine intimidated Fazekas, one of the nation's top scorers, like only a few players have this season. According to Mike Downey, also writing in the Trib, Augustine carried college basketball's No. 1 team on his shoulders. After Augustine scored his 17th point of the first half, Jay Bilas said "who says Illinois is a guard-oriented team?" Wolf Pack star Nick Fazekas said our game plan was to have a lot of attention towards the guards and the big man ended up hurting us tonight.

In the New York Times, Joe Drape said that Augustine proved the Illini do have an inside punch. Writing in the Quad-City Times, Steve Batterson agrees with Drape.

Although Augustine stole the show for the Illini, Deron Williams had an impressive 15 points and 10 assists which caused Decatur Herald & Tribune's Mike Albright to remark that Williams was the quiet man behind it all.

The Tribune's Rick Morrissey was in Indianapolis and remarked that Illinois was having fun again. In the Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz sums up the performance thusly: After watching Illinois' second-round victory over Nevada, the anxiety should be gone. Mike Nadel said in the State Journal-Register, Welcome back, Fighting Illini.

The two storylines for Thursday's matchup with Wisconwin-Milwaukee is the recruiting feud their coach Bruce Pearl instigated with Illinois over Deon Thomas and the Illini's return to Chicago. David Haugh has the story on Pearl in the Chicago Tribune. Jimmy Collins, an Illinois assistant coach at the time and current UIC coach, won't even shake Pearl's hand, despite the fact that the two teams are in the same conference. Mike Imrem says the Illini will be in a good old-fashioned grudge match. Speaking of Pearl, Mark Tupper says for 15 years now, he has been Illinois basketball's anti-Christ. Tupper writes: I've always thought of him as one of the game's great weasels, a sneaky, conniving guy who went to inexcusable extremes when he lost out on a high school recruit.

Jay Mariotti has more here. According to Mariotti, a loss to UWM would be worse than death itself for Illinois fans but the current batch of Illini players don't really care. "I was a little kid then, Dee Brown said. "That's old news."

Lindsey Willhite lets readers know that when Illinois comes to Chicago, it will be the first regional on state soil since 1967.

Illini NCAA news bites...

...Luther Head sank his 97th three-pointer of the season, setting the school's single-season record...Dee Brown's mother already has her hotel room in St. Louis reserved...Bruce Weber's brother, Dave, won the Illinois Class AA basketball championship with his Glenbrook North team...Haugh breaks down some strange numbers in the Trib...
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