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Illinois takes home Vegas title

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Illinois made good on coach Bruce Weber's
preseason prediction.

Muscling their way through a New Year's Eve matchup against
undefeated Cincinnati, the Illini used strong defense to reach
14-0, one of the coach's goals before the season started.

Deron Williams had 18 points and six rebounds to help top-ranked
Illinois defeat Cincinnati 67-45 in the final game of the
Las Vegas Holiday Classic on Friday.

"You don't have a chance to play a lot of top teams, so this
was important for us for the RPI," Weber said, referring to the
NCAA ranking system. "People said last year that we didn't set
high enough goals. But when I said we would go 14-0 to start the
season, (our assistant) coaches rolled their eyes."

Dee Brown and Roger Powell added 13 points apiece for Illinois,
which did not trail for the sixth consecutive game. Luther Head,
who was named tournament MVP, had 11 points and eight rebounds.

"(Our) kids said that the Cincinnati players were complaining
that we were too physical. I think that's good," Weber said. "It
shows we can play different styles. We defended so well. We
rebounded with them."

Jason Maxiell led the Bearcats (11-1) with 12 points and 11
rebounds, while Eric Hicks added eight points.

"We never let Maxiell get in a rhythm," Weber said. "They
never let us get in a rhythm and we didn't let them get in a rhythm
either."

Illinois is off to its best start since 1988-89, when it began
17-0 and reached the Final Four. The Illini have only trailed for
21 minutes, 32 seconds of 560 minutes this season. The last time
Illinois trailed was in the first half against Georgetown on Dec.
9.

The Illini held Cincinnati (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today; No. 22 AP) to 28 percent shooting (14-of-50),
and the Bearcats didn't help themselves, finishing 13-of-26 from
the foul line. Cincinnati had just six assists.

"We had good looks and we were not hitting them," Cincinnati
coach Bob Huggins said. "We had two, three-footers. By halftime,
we missed eight free throws."

After Illinois pulled ahead 21-11, the Bearcats got no closer
than eight points the rest of the way. Cincinnati made just six
shots in the first half, and the Illini held a 35-24 lead at the
break.

"We didn't help ourselves," Huggins said. "We need to rebound
better. We need to shoot 46 percent (from the field) or better.
There needs to be less turnovers and we didn't do that. We didn't
do what we had to do."

Illinois beat Cincinnati by even more last year, pulling out a
24-point victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Game notes
It was the fourth-ever meeting between the teams, with the
Illini leading 3-1. ... The last time Cincinnati faced a No. 1 team
was a 77-75 victory over Duke in 1998 during the championship game
of the Great Alaska Shootout. ... It seemed like a home game for
Illinois, with about 1,600 Illini fans in attendance. About 200
Cincinnati fans made the game.