Illini win 12th straight at United Center

CHICAGO (AP) -- Forget style points. After losing for the first time this season, No. 1 Illinois just wanted another win.

The Illini rebounded from their first loss with a 68-51 rout of Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament Friday. It wasn't their best showing of the year with 16 turnovers and 48 percent shooting, but they'll take it.

"I never thought we lost our confidence," said Deron Williams, who had eight assists and eight points, including a spectacular lay-in midway through the second half. "We had a bad game at the wrong time. I think we're back on it now."

James Augustine led the Illini with 15 points and eight rebounds, Luther Head scored 14 and Roger Powell Jr. added 11. Dee Brown, the Big Ten player of the year, had a quiet five points and six assists.

The game was so out of hand coach Bruce Weber pulled Williams and Brown with 8½ minutes still to play.

"As coach said, it wasn't very consistent," Williams said. "We picked it up in spots. Tomorrow we'll have to pick it up and give it a 40-minute effort."

Illinois (30-1) now plays Minnesota (21-9) in Saturday's semifinals.

And Weber will be with his team. The coach's 81-year-old mother, Dawn, died later Friday after surgery to repair a torn aorta. She had undergone surgery after complaining of chest pains before the game.

"This has been a great loss to our family," Weber said in a statement. "My mother has been very influential in my life and career, and that is why I have decided to coach the team on Saturday, because that is what she would have wanted."

The Illini's loss at Ohio State on Sunday spoiled their bid to become the first team to go through an entire season undefeated since Indiana in 1975-76. After leading the whole game, they were stunned when Matt Sylvester hit a game-winning 3 with less than six seconds left to give the Buckeyes a 65-64 upset.

The loss didn't cost Illinois its No. 1 ranking, which it's held for 14 weeks. And the Illini are still virtually guaranteed of being a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Losing still stung, though. Badly. The Illini knew they'd had doubters all season long, and they were itching to answer them with a good show at the United Center, where they've won 12 straight.

They got off to a sluggish start, missing their first two shots and turning the ball over three times before finally making a basket. Northwestern even held the lead briefly after Mohamed Hachad scored the game's first points on a 3-pointer.

The Illini had nine turnovers at the half, almost matching their average for an entire game. And they allowed Hachad to score a career-high 23 points despite holding the Wildcats to less than 35 percent shooting.

"We didn't have great rhythm today," Weber said. "Some of it was the style of the game, some of it's shooting, some of it's free throws. ... We never got to point where we made a great run. Just little spurts in the first half and second half."

Those spurts were enough, though. With the game tied at 5, Augustine grabbed the rebound after Head missed a long jumper and kicked it out to Williams, who drilled a 3-pointer that sparked a 10-2 run.

Hachad's 3-pointer with 9:43 left in the first half cut Illinois' lead to 21-13, but it was the last time the Wildcats (15-16) would get within double figures. Rich McBride was fouled on a 3-point try and made all three shots, starting a 12-4 run that all but ended the game. Illinois led 38-22 at halftime and pushed the lead to as much as 25 in the second half.

They finished with 20 assists on 25 baskets, including Brown's dazzling feed to Williams. With 9:05 to play, Williams fed Brown on the fast break. Brown then bounced the ball off the backboard, and Williams dropped it in.

The Illini faithful who packed the United Center oohed and aahed, and even the Illinois bench looked a bit awed.

"I didn't know it was coming," Williams said. "I slowed up. I didn't know what he was thinking or doing. I thought he was going to lay it up. I was at the 3-point line when he threw it, so I just had to go get it. I would have dunked it, but I didn't know it was coming."

The Wildcats knew what was coming after playing Illinois twice during the regular season, but it didn't help them. They shot less than 35 percent for the game, and went 5½ minutes without scoring midway through the second half. The Wildcats also had 19 turnovers.

"When you play a team the caliber of Illinois, I don't think we have to play perfectly to win but we certainly can't have as many turnovers as we did," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "I don't think they played their best game, but we just didn't do what we needed to do. Too many possessions ended up without us getting shots."

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