Illini Wonk
Sunday, April 03, 2005
  Illinois vs. North Carolina in NCAA Title
Illinois vs. North Carolina.

Fighting Illini vs. Tar Heels.

#1 vs. #2.

It's the game that college basketball fans have waited for all year and it hardly ever works out that way. It was 30 years ago when #1 last met #2 in the NCAA Tournament Championship. Big Ten Wonk says the title matchup was meant to be.

How did we get to this point? First, Illinois downed Louisville 72-57. There were so many reasons that Illinois won this game, that it's hard to know where to begin. The defense was outstanding, particularly on the perimeter. Louisville came into the game having scored 93 points in each of their past two games and were averaging better than 82 per game in the NCAA Tournament.

Deron William's defense shut down the opposition's best player for the second straight game. After controlling Salim Stoudamire in the Region Final, Williams did the same to Fransisco Garcia in the National Semifinal. Dennis Dodd, another CBS SportsLine senior writer (how many of those are there?), said on back-to-back Saturday's, Williams shut down perhaps the country's best shooter, and humiliated perhaps the country's best overall player (Illini Wonk is not too sure about the label for Garcia, but the picture at this link is worth a look).

On the offensive end, the Illini were not bothered by the Louisville zone and Williams expertly controlled the tempo of the game. The seniors and the big men came through with big games. At CBS SportsLine, senior Gregg Doyel praises the big three: Augustine, Powell, Ingram. He also said shame on everybody. Including us, who predicted a Louisville victory in part because of the Cardinals' thick, athletic frontcourt. Oops. On his blog, Mark Tupper exclaimed Hail to the seniors! Hail to the ‘bigs!’

Although the entire front court played well, in the second half it was Roger Powell Jr. who stole the show. He had 18 points after the break and drew a big charge when the Illini were protecting a 10 point lead. Powell hit two of three three-pointers in the second half, but the most impressive one was the one he missed...and followed up with a dunk. That's right he followed up his own missed three-pointer-from 20 feet away-with a tip-in dunk. You had to see it to believe it. (Luckily for you, CSTV includes it in their highlights). Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune said that Louisville got Powelled. Kyle Veltrop of the Sporting News noted the divine way he played in the second half. Of his congregation in Joliet, Powell said They're going to be shouting, praising the Lord.

If you're looking for the thoughts of Coach Bruce Weber and the players, College Sports TV has the post-game press conference. Joe Drape of the New York Times thought they were loose (the accompanying slide show is good, but whoever compiled it might want to look at slide #3 which says: Bruce Weber reached the final in his first season at Illinois).

In the second game, North Carolina finished off it's second straight Big Ten opponent with a 87-71 victory over Michigan State. Although the two were this year's two best teams, their team history couldn't be more different. North Carolina is one of the most storied programs in NCAA basketball history.

Illinois has never even been to the final game in their 100 year history. Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune writes that, like the Boston Red Sox, the even longer-suffering Fighting Illini of Illinois finally have a shot at the title. As an interesting side note, Illinois in the school with the most NCAA Tournament wins without a title. Roy Williams is the coach with the most NCAA Tournament wins without a title. One of those streaks will come to an end tomorrow night.
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