CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois had its 14-point lead shaved to two with
six minutes to go. But the top-ranked Illini weren't going to let
this game slip away.
They wouldn't add a loss to coach Bruce Weber's tragic weekend.
Illinois (31-1) held Minnesota without a field goal for the
final 4:05 on the way to a 64-56 win Saturday and a trip to the Big
Ten tournament championship game for the third straight season.
"We say we're a family. That's what we emphasized all year,"
said forward James Augustine, who was the first to put an arm
around his coach after the win. "We're all with him."
Weber coached the game less than 24 hours after his mother,
81-year-old Dawn Weber, died at a Chicago hospital after emergency
heart surgery. He said there was never any doubt in his mind that
he would be on the sideline.
"I'm proud of the kids and happy to be back in the championship
(game)," Weber said. "I don't want to be the story. The kids have
got to be the story."
The Illini wore black bands on their jerseys in memory of Dawn
Weber, and the emotional drain showed early in what became a
somewhat sloppy performance. They committed a season-high 23
turnovers and shot just 36 percent from the field.
"We were probably feeling a little too emotional," said Luther
Head, who led five Illini in double figures with 14 points. "We're
feeling the same way he's feeling."
The Illini got going midway through the first half and took a
14-13 lead on the first of Head's four 3-pointers. They used a 14-0
run to turn an 13-8 deficit into a 22-13 lead.
Illinois led 30-26 at halftime and looked to be in control with
12:04 to go after Head's fourth roof-raising 3-pointer put the
Illini ahead 49-35.
But Illinois missed its next four shots and committed three
turnovers, and the Gophers went on a 16-4 run.
Deron Williams broke Illinois' drought with a 3-pointer, but
Robinson hit another 3-pointer and Grier had a dunk that made it
"It's unexplainable," Robinson said of Grier. "You can't put
into words Vincent's game. He does everything for this team."
But Roger Powell Jr. converted a three-point play that pushed
the Illini lead back to five, and the Gophers managed just three
free throws down the stretch. Grier led the Gophers with 24 points.
Robinson had 12 and Jeff Hagen scored 10 points.
"We slugged it out toe-to-toe with them," Gophers coach Dan
Monson said. "They were better but the margin is narrowing for us.
We're getting better at the right time of year. How fun is that?"
Minnesota (21-10) lost to the Illini 89-66 on Jan. 29 but
finished the regular season with four straight victories and
handled Indiana easily, 71-55, in Friday's quarterfinals.
"Minnesota's a very good team, an NCAA team," Weber said.
"There's no doubt about that."
The Illini will face Wisconsin in Sunday's championship. The Badgers beat Iowa 59-56. The Illini have won 12 straight games at the
Williams scored 12 points for Illinois, Augustine scored 11
points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and Dee Brown and Powell each
With about 27 seconds remaining and the outcome assured, Weber
started walking along the scoring table to shake hands with Monson.
He shook hands with every Gopher player, many of whom stopped to
speak with him briefly.
He got a pat on the back from Augustine, and then walked with
Head to a postgame TV interview.