(1) Illinois 78

(18-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

Northwestern 66

(8-8, 1-3 Big Ten)

4:37 PM ET, January 15, 2005

Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois

1 2 T
#1ILL 42 3678
NW 34 3266

Top Performers

Illinois: L. Head 26 Pts, 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl

Northwestern: V. Vukusic 20 Pts, 5 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Blk

Head scores 26 to sink scrappy Wildcats

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Luther Head's high-rising moves to the rim and soft jumpers from the perimeter led No. 1 Illinois to another victory and a place in the school's record books.

"We love it. We've done something no one else has done," Head said Saturday after the Illini's 78-66 win over Northwestern gave them an 18-0 record -- the best start in school history.

"Just to accomplish something no one has, we've got something to talk about. But we still have a lot left to accomplish," said Head, who finished with a season-high 26 points, 17 in the second half.

The Illini had tied the school's 1988-89 Final Four team on Wednesday with their 17th straight win. Now, the record's all theirs.

The 6-foot-3 Head used his great leaping ability to score from the inside, hit four 3-pointers and played hustling defense for the Illini, who finally pulled away in the latter stages of the second half against the scrappy Wildcats (8-8, 1-3 Big Ten).

"The whole team loves challenges. We play well when there is something to prove," said Head, who scored a total of seven points in two games against Northwestern last season.

On Saturday, he was 9-for-14 from the field.

"Nobody cares who the high scorer is. We've got a lot of guys who can score," he said.

In a boisterous Welsh-Ryan Arena filled with both purple-clad Northwestern students and orange-wearing Illini followers, Illinois trailed only twice -- early in the game --and led by eight at halftime.

Last season in Evanston, Illinois was ahead of Northwestern by nine at the half, but the Wildcats rallied for a 10-point victory.

Not this time. Illinois' experience and poise kept it from happening again, even though Head and Deron Williams picked up their third fouls early in the second half.

"The big difference is that we're a year older and we understand what it means to win on the road," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

"They're tough to play here. ... It's tough for anybody to win on the road in the Big Ten. So, it's rewarding."

Roger Powell scored 15 points and Dee Brown had 12 for the Illini, who are 4-0 in the conference and have won 14 straight Big Ten games.

Leading scorer Vedran Vukusic, held to just two free throws in the first half, led Northwestern with 20 points, while Davor Duvancic added 13. The Wildcats shot 57 percent but still lost, partly because they had 16 turnovers. Northwestern fell to 0-13 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams.

Vukusic saluted Illinois' performance this season, while adding a qualifier.

"They're No. 1 and they're going to be for a while," he said. "But they're beatable."

After Northwestern got within six points early in the second half, Head drove for a basket and then took a nice pass from Williams for a high-rising slam as the Illini went back up by 10.

Vukusic banked in a shot and hit a 3-pointer to slice it to five. But James Augustine got inside for a basket and converted a three-point play, dousing Northwestern's comeback attempt.

"When they made a play, we made a play. When they made a play the crowd would go crazy and you got to do something to shut them up," Brown said.

Williams got his fourth foul with 11:39 to go, but Illinois added to the lead as Jack Ingram hit a jumper and Head made two free throws for a 12-point lead.

After Powell stepped outside and hit a jumper and the ever-present Head made a steal and drove the length of the floor for a basket, the Illini led by 13 with 7 minutes to go.

"They spread you out and the have guys knocking down 3s," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "Their speed is a factor."

After Head hit his final 3-pointer to push the margin to 18 in the closing minutes, he went airborne for a celebratory chest bump with Brown.

"Luther had a special day," Weber said.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 78 66
FG Made-Attempted 30-61 (.492) 24-42 (.571)
3P Made-Attempted 7-21 (.333) 8-16 (.500)
FT Made-Attempted 11-16 (.688) 10-16 (.625)
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 21 (0/0) 17 (0/0)
Largest Lead 18 2

2004-05 Season

» Jan 15, 2005 ILL 78, @NW 66Recap
Feb 23, 2005 @ILL 84, NW 48Recap
Mar 11, 2005 @ILL 68, NW 51Recap