Illinois uses Georgetown model to take out Purdue

December, 31, 2008

Bruce Weber brought up Georgetown.

He made sure his Illinois team saw how the Hoyas threw the first punch at Connecticut on Monday in their Big East opener and didn't let go of the game.

He wanted to ensure the Illini delivered the same knockout of Purdue.

They did.

"Georgetown went in and controlled from the get-go, and when UConn punched back, Georgetown kept its poise," Weber said by phone as he made his way back home late Tuesday night from Illinois' Big Ten season-opening win at Purdue, a 71-67 OT victory.

"[Georgetown] stretched it out. We didn't do that, but we kept our poise, made big plays," Weber said. "But now we've got to go to Michigan."

The parallels between Illinois and Georgetown are real. Both opened their respective conference seasons with wins on the road against the projected conference favorites.

But just like Georgetown's John Thompson III said late Monday night, the Hoyas can't rest. Up next is a home game against Pitt, another favorite for the Big East title. Illinois doesn't have the luxury of a home game. The Illini continue the road swing Sunday at suddenly resurgent Michigan, a team that has already beaten Duke and UCLA.

"It might have hurt us if we weren't playing a high-caliber team next," Weber said. "This game will give our guys an added edge and extra motivation."

Even though Weber has coached in the NCAA final -- taken a team that was as watched as any other in 2005 -- he still covets the attention for his program. He wants this Illinois team to be ranked and said he hopes the win over Purdue is a step in that direction.

But even more important is how much a win in West Lafayette will mean to Illinois possibly winning the Big Ten (yes, we can say that now, just like looking at a Georgetown Big East title is reasonable).

"Hopefully this gives us respect and at the same time gives us an advantage," Weber said. "We're now one up with a road win against a top-10 team. It's a positive because no one else may get a win at Purdue this season."

Weber was exasperated after Illinois took a one-point lead with 6.3 seconds left only to see the game nearly over when Davis fouled JaJuan Johnson with 1.9 seconds left. Johnson made the first free throw but missed the second. Illinois controlled the overtime, outscoring the Boilermakers 15-11 in the final five minutes.

"We talked about, in the timeout before the overtime, how we've been here before, in close games, so many times," Weber said. "We lost a lot of these close games, but we kept our poise. We talked about our mental toughness and discipline down the stretch."

At 13-1, Illinois should be ranked regardless of what occurs Sunday in Ann Arbor. But the schedule doesn't let up after a home game against Indiana. Like a brutal Big East run for Georgetown, Illinois will continue a tough slate of its own, facing a road game at Michigan State before home games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and a road trip to Minnesota -- all before January ends.

• Bring on Wake.

BYU had an impressive win at Tulsa on Tuesday to improve its record to 11-1.

BYU coach Dave Rose said late Tuesday night that he already snuck a peak at how tough the undefeated Demon Deacons are on the boards. Wake Forest plays the Cougars on Saturday in Provo.

"That's going to be the big key for us since we're not a great defensive rebounding team," Rose said by phone after the win over Tulsa. "We've got to find a way to limit them to one shot."

Rose said he can't remember BYU hosting a ranked, nonconference opponent at the Marriott Center. He noted that during his tenure the Cougars have played Louisville, North Carolina, USC, UCLA and Washington State -- but none of them at the Marriott Center, where they have a nation-best 53-game winning streak.

"We get so few of these opportunities," Rose said.

Like Illinois, BYU has been under the radar and unranked so far this season. The Cougars are one key play -- an Arizona State game-winning shot right at the buzzer -- from being undefeated. Expect BYU to be ranked, too, if the Cougs beat Wake Forest.

• Arkansas' win over Oklahoma should send notice to Texas. The Hogs host the Longhorns on Jan. 6 after playing North Texas on Saturday. Getting into the NCAAs is all about a quality resume. Beating Oklahoma is clearly going to stand out for the Hogs. Taking down Texas, too, would be two wins that most teams won't have this season. The SEC West is wide open and Arkansas, with one of the nation's best-kept secrets in freshman point Courtney Fortson (12 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds Tuesday) has a legit shot to win the division. Who had the Hogs winning the SEC West at the beginning of the season? I'd guess no one.

• Butler is 11-1 after beating UAB on Tuesday night. This is why someone like Brad Stevens should just stay put. Outside of Thad Matta leaving Butler, who else has thoroughly enjoyed success once they left one of the best jobs for its level in the country?

• Don't want to pick on Florida (11-2), which beat Stetson on Tuesday, but it will be nice to judge the Gators after they play another school from a major conference when it hosts NC State on Saturday. Of the 13 games so far, only three of the 13 came against teams from a "BCS" conference and the Gators are 1-2 in those games (losses to Syracuse and Florida State, and a win against Washington).

• Clemson coach Oliver Purnell is once again putting his team in position for an NCAA bid as the ACC season nears. The Tigers posted an impressive road win at South Carolina to remain undefeated at 13-0.

• Vermont is clearly the team to beat in the America East Conference. The Catamounts were impressive in getting third place in the Rainbow Classic by beating Colorado on Tuesday night.

• New Mexico swept the season series from New Mexico State. The game is better off when this rivalry is between two teams at the top of their respective conferences. The fan base in the state doesn't get much national attention, but it's as passionate as most around the country.

• Good road win for the West Coast Conference when San Diego beat Mississippi State in Starkville on Tuesday. The league, outside Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, needs road wins against BCS conference teams to help its overall power rating.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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