1:40 PM ET, March 13, 2004
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber believes the Illini have done enough to secure a high seed in the NCAA tournament.Dee Brown scored 21 points and 12th-ranked Illinois held off a second-half comeback to beat Michigan 74-60 Saturday in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.Illinois (24-5) will play No. 10 Wisconsin, which beat Michigan State 68-66 in the other semifinal, for the championship Sunday and possibly a third seed when the NCAA pairings are announced Sunday night. Even a loss shouldn't drop them far below that, Weber said."I've got to believe pretty much everything is pretty settled in," he said. "You might have some tweaks here and there, some upsets, but the big thing was getting to the (Big Ten) championship. Now, if anything, we can come in loose and free. Hopefully, we earned a No. 3 by advancing."Michigan (18-11), a bubble team for an NCAA bid, cut a 15-point Illinois lead to two points midway through the second period, mainly with the 3-point shooting of Daniel Horton.But Brown countered with his second 3-pointer, then added two free throws and another basket on a goaltend as the Illini pulled away for good. A dunk by James Augustine off one of Brown's five assists gave Illinois its biggest lead of the game at 72-56 with under two minutes to go."The favorite part of my game is to steal the ball from the other team and go down and get a basket," Brown said. "Fortunately, my teammates knocked the ball out and we got out on the break and I got some easy transition baskets."Augustine added 15 points and Luther Head had 12 for Illinois. Horton led the Wolverines with 16 points and Bernard Robinson Jr. added 15."Illinois' perimeter defense makes opponents rush and take quick shots," Robinson said. "We weren't able to recognize that. They're as good as any team in the country."Early errors were costly for the Wolverines, who had four of their 15 turnovers in the first four minutes. Two of them were on consecutive possessions, leading to fastbreak layups by Jack Ingram and Brown, and a basket by Deron Williams on Illinois' next possession pushed the lead to 15-5.Michigan came within six points, but two straight 3-pointers by Richard McBride started an 11-2 run to give Illinois its biggest lead of the half at 28-13."The key was getting the ball to the right guys and getting easy baskets," Weber said.The Illini still led by 13 late in the period, but Courtney Sims scored a rebound basket and Chris Hunter hit a 3-pointer to pull the Wolverines within 37-29 at halftime.Michigan continued its comeback as Illinois missed its first six shots of the second period."We battled hard, and certainly we made a game of it in the second half," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. "But we were never able to gain the lead. The turnovers were the difference."A pair of 3-pointers by Horton helped cut the lead to 39-37, the closest Michigan had come since the early minutes of the game. The Wolverines still trailed just 47-44 after another 3 by Horton before Illinois began to pull away. A deep 3-pointer by Brown pushed the lead to 10, then three minutes later another 3-point basket by Head made it 64-51, and Michigan came no closer than 11 points in the final four minutes.Amaker still held out hope for an NCAA bid for the Wolverines."Obviously, no one cares what I think, but we've played a very competitive schedule, we have 18 wins and we finished at .500 in our league," he said. "But we'll wait to see what happens."
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