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Williams shines down stretch for Illinois

3/12/2004

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Deron Williams felt sick just before
Illinois' game against Indiana.

Fortunately for the 12th-ranked Illini, Williams recovered just
in time.

Williams scored 12 of his 20 points in the final five minutes to
lead Illinois past Indiana 71-59 in the Big Ten tournament
quarterfinals Friday.

"I don't know if it was nerves or what, but I told my trainer,
he'll probably have his best game of the year," coach Bruce Weber
said.

Weber said Williams did not tell him until three minutes before
game time that he would play. On the court, Williams appeared
perfectly healthy.

He went 7-of-16 from the field, made three 3-pointers, all three
of his free throws, grabbed five rebounds and had seven assists.
And he was the catalyst in Illinois' closing run after Indiana tied
it at 54.

Although Luther Head scored 29 points and helped seal the win
with free throws, Williams was the difference.

"You can tell he's worked on his shot because when we were in
high school, he didn't really shoot that well," said Indiana's
Bracey Wright, who defended his high school teammate most of the
day. "Tonight he hit two big 3s for them."

Williams' performance helped Illinois (23-5) win its 11th
straight and sent the Big Ten's regular-season champion into the
tournament semifinals for the seventh straight year. The Illini,
the tournament's top seed, will meet fifth-seeded Michigan, a 79-70
winner over Iowa, on Saturday.

Williams also ended Indiana's worst and most frustrating season
in decades.

The Hoosiers (14-15) dropped their ninth game in the last 12 and
posted their first losing season since 1969-70, when they went
7-17. They will not make a postseason tournament for the first time
since the 1976-77 season.

Mark Johnson led Indiana with 16 points -- his second career-high
in two days after entering the tournament with only 11 points in
his career.

A.J. Moye added 13 points and nine rebounds in his final college
game, and the Hoosiers shot just 34.5 percent from the field.

Indiana could not overcome Williams and the Illini's stifling
defense.

"It hurts because it comes down to pride," Moye said. "If we
were 14-15 and we gave everything we had (this year), I'd be OK
with that. But we didn't."

Still, Indiana played like a different team the last two games
when coach Mike Davis gambled by inserting little-used backups to
try and make an improbable tournament run.

Indiana played with more passion Thursday and Friday. Against
Illinois, the Hoosiers fought their way back after trailing 28-21
at halftime and falling behind 45-32 midway through the second
half.

Johnson hit two free throws, Wright a 3-pointer and Johnson two
more free throws to make get the Hoosiers within 47-42 with 8:36
left. Johnson's fourth 3 of the game with 5:44 left tied the score
at 52.

That's when Williams took control.

"I just found gaps in their defense and was able to score," he
said. "It just happened to be my time."

Williams broke a 54-54 tie with a driving layup, a play that
turned the game.

Illinois got a defensive stop and on its next possession,
Williams hit a 3-pointer. After Jack Ingram hit one of two free
throws, Williams hit another 3 to make it 63-54 with 2:45 left and
Indiana was finished.

The Illini allowed just five points in the last 4:53.

"Deron did the same thing to us at home," Davis said. "He's a
heck of a basketball player."