Illini Handle Gophers With Ease To Remain Unbeaten
Jan. 29, 2005
By JIM PAUL
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Illinois celebrated 100 years of basketball on Saturday and the top-ranked Illini made sure they didn't spoil the party.
Deron Williams had 18 points and six assists, and Illinois controlled the game from the opening tip in an 89-66 win over Minnesota.
"I think we wanted to come out and put on a show," Williams said. "We always want to get the job done, but it was a special night with the people in the crowd so we wanted to win it for them, too."
More than 300 former players and coaches were among the sold-out Assembly Hall crowd that watched the Illini (21-0, 7-0 Big Ten) open the game with a 10-1 run. Roger Powell Jr. scored five of his game-high 21 points during the spurts, and scored seven of Illinois' first 12 points.
Former Illinois coaches Harv Schmidt, Gene Bartow and Lou Henson were among those who came back for the celebration, which included a postgame introduction of the school's all-century team. Henson, who coached at Illinois for 21 seasons and led the Illini to their last Final Four appearance in 1989, was greeted with a standing ovation and a chorus of "Lou, Lou," from the crowd.
Henson has used a wheelchair since a bout with viral encephalitis last fall, but he stood in his bright orange blazer to accept the ovation just one week after retiring as head coach at New Mexico State.
Illinois, which wore replica 1989 uniforms for the game, stretched its conference winning streak to 17 games, tying a school record set from 1914-16. James Augustine had 15 points and seven rebounds, and Luther Head scored 10.
It was the first time in five games that Head failed to lead Illinois in scoring.
"Luther wasn't shooting the ball (well) from 3 and Deron stepped up," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "Every day it's somebody else."
Minnesota (14-6, 4-3) had trouble with the Illini defense from the start, committing turnovers on its first two possessions. The Golden Gophers were led by Vincent Grier, who scored 17 points.
"We were in a hole trying to come out of it," Grier said. "You can't play catch-up like that against the No. 1 team in the country."
Powell opened the game with a layup off a nice feed from Dee Brown. Williams hit a jumper, Head and Powell made 3-pointers and Powell sank two free throws to give the Illini a 12-4 lead with 16:34 to go in the first half.
"We really were reactive to start the game," Gophers coach Dan Monson said. "We just created a monster with our defense early."
While the Illini were scoring, Minnesota had to battle to get an open look. The shot clock expired on the Gophers' second possession and they were forced to take three shots in the first half with fewer than 5 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
Illinois took a 17-point lead on two consecutive 3-pointers from Williams and a third from Brown with 10:41 to go in the half before Minnesota came back with its own 7-0 run to cut the Illini lead to 29-19.
But Powell's jumper and two free throws from Augustine started a 14-5 run to close the half. Illinois led 47-26 at the break and Minnesota got no closer than 18 points after that.
Brown also had six assists for the Illini, who had assists on 21 of 33 baskets.
Rico Tucker scored 12 points for Minnesota. Dan Coleman had 11 and Jeff Hagen scored 10.
Reserve center Spencer Tollackson left in the second half after injuring his right knee in a fall underneath the basket. Monson said the injury was not serious and Tollackson was walking normally after the game.