INDIANAPOLIS -- Talk about good omens. Illinois had one during a timeout with 12:50 left in Friday's Big Ten tournament quarterfinal matchup against Wisconsin.
As the "Kiss Cam" segment played on the Conseco Fieldhouse JumboTron, an Illinois fan appeared on the screen, got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend.
She said yes.
Will the NCAA tournament selection committee do the same on Sunday?
Illinois has a much more convincing case after edging No. 4 seed Wisconsin 58-54 to advance to the Big Ten tournament semifinals Saturday against top seed Ohio State. The Illini limped into the tournament having lost five of six, but they delivered their best defensive effort of the season.
And it came at a perfect time. Illinois has beaten Wisconsin twice and now owns five wins against the RPI Top 50. In a year where the bubble is extremely weak, it should be enough to put the Illini in the bracket.
It didn't come without some tense moments down the stretch, as Wisconsin got hot after struggling mightily with its shooting.
First-team All-Big Ten guard Demetri McCamey really stepped up for Illinois after a rough outing in Sunday's loss to Wisconsin. McCamey was brilliant at both ends of the floor, getting his teammates involved and taking timely shots, none bigger than a fallaway 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to put Illinois up 49-38 with 2:23 left. Illinois really needed its best player today, and he answered.
So did center Mike Tisdale (21 points, 8 rebounds) and forward Mike Davis (10 points, 10 rebounds). Davis made several huge plays in the final minutes. And after a rough first half, D.J. Richardson showed why he's the Big Ten co-Freshman of the Year.
Illinois came in ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (66.5 ppg), an uncharacteristic statistic for a Bruce Weber-coached team. But the Illini looked like one of Weber's old squads today, forcing Wisconsin into jumper after jumper and miss after miss. The Badgers had 20 points with less than 16 minutes to go in the game.
Wisconsin star guard Trevon Hughes missed his first 11 shots before connecting with 1:44 left. Hughes led a furious rally in the closing minutes, hitting four 3-pointers, the last to bring Wisconsin within two points. But he fouled out on a near steal with 26 seconds left, and teammate Jason Bohannon missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt.
Wisconsin needs both Hughes and Bohannon to step up next week in the NCAA tournament, where it likely will be a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.