Illini 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Articles

Illini get ultimate opportunity to show they're No. 1

April 3, 2005

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The best team in the country all season is an underdog today. By now, Illinois is used to it.

Even though they've only lost once, have tied the NCAA record for wins and have been ranked No. 1 in the country since December, the Illini (37-1) have had trouble getting their due much of the season.

Never has that been more true than in the buildup to Monday night's championship game, when the Illini face North Carolina (32-4) in a matchup being billed as Team vs. Talent. Illinois is the ``Team. North Carolina has the ``Talent.''

The Illini say they don't take offense to the comparison. Often during their interviews Sunday, though, they found themselves defending the way they're perceived -- as the unsung group of guys who ``play the game the right way,'' compared to Carolina's group of stars.

``We have NBA people at our games every time,'' Illini coach Bruce Weber said. ``We're going to have some guys drafted, whether it's this year or next year. But we don't have quite the names, I guess, and athletic guys that maybe they have.''

The reason the Tar Heels get the edge starts with Sean May, the 6-foot-9 center who averages 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds this season. North Carolina also has Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams and Raymond Felton. They'll all go to the NBA soon, as will the sixth man, freshman forward Marvin Williams.

``They'll have a lottery pick coming off their bench,'' Illinois forward James Augustine said. ``They're obviously more talented. But when it comes down to the situation, it's who's the better team'' that will win.

Nobody has won more than Illinois -- ever. With their 72-57 victory over Louisville in the semifinals, the Illini matched Duke (1986, 1989) and UNLV (1987) for the most wins in a single season.

Like the Tar Heels, the Illini have stars and NBA talent, starting with guard Deron Williams, a tenacious defender and super ballhandler who may have played himself into the NBA lottery, as well.

Another guard, Luther Head, can shoot 3s with the best, as can Dee Brown, dubbed the ``One-Man Fastbreak'' for his ability to blow by defenders in the open court. Roger Powell Jr. showed an inside-outside game Saturday -- making 3-pointers and lay-ups with equal aplomb -- that makes him hard to defend.

But the theme people keep coming back to with the Illini is their unselfishness.

``I saw them on film once, they made 19 passes to get the shot they wanted,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

Not that the Tar Heels coach, seeking the national title that has eluded him for the last 16 seasons, would trade what he's got.

He is in only the second year of rebuilding a program that went from great under Dean Smith to 8-20 under Matt Doherty. When Roy Williams arrived at his alma mater, he looked at the roster and saw what he had. He called the players in and said they had the talent to make the NCAA tournament in Year One, and to be right where they're at in Year Two.

``I believed it not because of my coaching,'' he said. ``I believed it because of the kids.''

The Tar Heels finished the season ranked second behind Illinois in The Associated Press poll. Their meeting in the final is the first between Nos. 1 and 2 since 1975, when UCLA's John Wooden coached his last game against Kentucky.

North Carolina is a 2 1/2 -point favorite.

``We're not surprised,'' Head said. ``I mean, people have been saying North Carolina was the better team all year.''

McCants, who averages 16 points a game and is never short on confidence, certainly thinks the Illini are stoppable.

``I feel Dee Brown, being as quick as he is, our length will be able to bother him a lot,'' he said. ``And Deron (Williams), as quick as he is, I think Raymond will be able to contain him. Luther Head, as high as he can jump, as fast as he can run, I think I'll be able to defend him.''

If the Tar Heels come out ahead on all those one-on-one matchups, certainly they'll win, which would give Roy Williams the national title -- the only thing missing on his otherwise stellar resume.

And if the abundance of talent furthers the perception that all Williams had to do was roll a ball out to make this team win, he's fine with that. The coach, an avid golf nut, likens it to the only hole-in-one he's ever made -- an easy little shot on a 118-yard hole.

``I took my wife out there to show her where it was,'' Williams said. ``She said, `Well, that's so close, that shouldn't even count.' If we win the daggum thing and somebody says something about that to me, that's going to be fine, too.''


Illini Set to Take on UNC for the Title on Monday

April 3, 2005

ST. LOUIS - Staring into the sea of orange in the stands, the Illinois players raised their forefingers high above their heads. The No. 1 team in the country needs just one more win, and 100 years of waiting for a championship will be over.

The best season in a century of Illini basketball got even better Saturday, thanks to Roger Powell Jr. and Luther Head , who scored 20 points apiece and sparked the Illini to a 72-57 victory over Louisville .

"We put April 4th on the board six weeks ago and we are playing April 4th in the national championship," coach Bruce Weber said. "We are very excited." With the win, the Illini (37-1) tied the single-season NCAA record for victories, and kept the coach's magical bus ride going straight through the title game Monday against either North Carolina or Michigan State .

The Illini, ranked first in the country since December, got the tough test they expected from the Cardinals (33-5) and Rick Pitino , who made history by taking his third different program to the Final Four.

But Pitino and the Cardinals are going home, thanks to the scoring of Powell and Head and a defensive effort from everyone that helped the Illini shut down Francisco Garcia and pull away in the second half.

"I think the key, the first key, was the defense," Weber said.

A close second was the shooting of Powell and Head.

After Louisville took its only lead of the game, 33-31, early in the second, Powell scored nine straight points for Illinois to grab back the lead and establish the Illini's dominance inside.

A little later, with a 50-49 lead, Powell sandwiched a layup and a jumper around two 3-pointers by Head as part of an 11-0 run that made the deficit too big to overcome. Head made his first four 3-point attempts during the second-half streak. Powell wound up just four points short of his career high despite playing only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

"He went through a stretch where he just took the game in his hands and he just took on the scoring," Head said.

This felt a lot like a home game for the Illini, whose Orange Crush fan base has followed them around this tournament when they played in Indianapolis, Chicago and now St. Louis - all just a bus ride away.

Weber's family, still grieving the death of the coach's mother three weeks ago, also has tagged along to witness up close what likely will go down as the best season in the program's long, rather unstoried history.

This year's group has done it unselfishly, not thinking much about stats or who gets the credit. This semifinal game was another example of how it works.

Head's backcourt mates, Deron Williams and Dee Brown , each struggled from the field, shooting a combined 5-for-17, and just 3-for-14 from 3-point range.

But, as usual, they did the little things. Williams, who scored Illinois' first and last bucket of the game, finished with nine assists and five rebounds to go with his five points. Brown ran the point and took care of the ball, adding four assists.

The guards also put some major `D' on Louisville.

Williams guarded Garcia, the Cardinals' best player most of the season, and Garcia finished with four points to close the season with two subpar games. This one came on top of the come-from-behind win over West Virginia in which he fouled out and watched the last nine minutes from the bench.

"If it's a good player, he really takes pride in stopping them," Weber said.

Taquan Dean and Larry O'Bannon picked Garcia up last time, but couldn't do it again. Dean never found his touch, going 4-for-15 and only making two 3-pointers as part of a 12-point night. O'Bannon went 4-for-10 for 12 points. "I think we were playing with them the first half," Dean said. "They got some great looks from outside and were making them."

Forward Ellis Myles led the Cardinals with 17 points, but that was the problem: Louisville simply doesn't win much when it has to look to its forwards for the bulk of the scoring.

Pitino put on his usual show - stomping, screaming, trying to coax more out of a team that has largely been regarded as an overmatched underdog on many of its stops this year. But unlike last week, when the Cardinals rallied from 20 points down for a win over West Virginia and the eighth trip to the Final Four in program history, there was no adjustment Pitino could make.

His team was getting beaten on the boards - 38-26 - and in the end, Illinois had too many good players in too many spots for the Cardinals to overcome. "You've got to stop Powell and Head," Garcia said. "These guys can hit it from anywhere."

After O'Bannon scored five straight to open the second half and give Louisville its only lead, Powell spotted up for a 3-pointer to grab the lead back. On the next possession, he shot an open 3, which he missed, but grabbed the rebound himself for a two-handed jam.

"It was just bounding my way," Powell explained.

He mixed lay-ups, short, spinning jumpers, another 3-pointer and one other putback of a teammate's miss.

Leading 64-55 and with both teams unable to score for nearly two minutes, it was Powell who layed in another teammate's miss to make it 66-55 with 2:30 left and begin the celebration.

When the buzzer sounded, several Illini stuck their forefingers in the air and pointed toward the crowd - needing one more win to fashion the perfect ending to what Weber has called a "fairytale season."

"I was excited when ... it got under a minute," Weber said. "I was excited because I knew we were in the championship game, and that's been our goal."


Illini Top Louisville 72-57 in NCAA Semi Finals

Saturday April 2, 2005
ST. LOUIS -- The Illini (37-1), the best team in the country all season, got the tough test they expected from the Cardinals (33-5) and Rick Pitino, who made history by taking his third different program to the Final Four.

But Head and Powell made the difference as Illinois pulled away in the second half.

Head, one of three guards who make his team tick, made his first four 3-point attempts in the second half to help the Illini on an 11-0 run for a 61-49 lead with 6 minutes left.

Powell, meanwhile, proved Illinois isn't just about guards.

The 6-foot-6 forward hit a pair of 3s and powered underneath for a few more buckets to help the Illini pull away and give them an edge on the inside in an otherwise very even game.

Next for Illinois, a matchup Monday against either Michigan State or North Carolina for the championship. If the Illini win, they'll become the first team since the 1974 North Carolina State Wolfpack to win the championship without getting on an airplane in the postseason.

Indeed, this one felt a lot like a home game for the Illini, whose Orange Crush fan base has followed them around the country this season, especially over the last three weeks, when they've played in Indianapolis, Chicago and now St. Louis — all just a bus ride away.

Head's backcourt mates, Deron Williams and Dee Brown, each struggled, shooting a combined 5-for-17, and just 3-for-14 from 3-point range. But, as usual, they did the little things. Williams, who scored Illinois' first and last bucket of the game, finished with nine assists and five rebounds to go with his five points. Brown ran the point and took care of the ball, adding four assists.

Williams, Brown and Head also put some major `D' on Louisville.

Francisco Garcia, the Cardinals' best player most of the season, finished with four points and ended the season with two subpar games, this one coming on top of the come-from-behind win over West Virginia in which he fouled out and watched the last 9 minutes from the bench.

Taquan Dean and Larry O'Bannon picked him up in that one, but not this time. Dean never found his touch, going 4-for-15 and only making two 3-pointers as part of a 12-point night. O'Bannon went 4-for-10 for 12 points.

Forward Ellis Myles led the Cardinals with 17 points, but that was the problem: Louisville simply doesn't win much when it has to look to its forwards for the bulk of the scoring.

Pitino put on his usual show — stomping, screaming, trying to coax more out of a team that has largely been regarded as an overmatched underdog on many of its stops this year.

But unlike last week, when the Cardinals rallied from 20 points down for a win over West Virginia and the eighth trip to the Final Four in program history, there was no adjustment Pitino could make.

His team was getting beaten on the boards — 38-26 — and in the end, Illinois had too many good players in too many spots for the Cardinals to overcome.

The Illini pulled away after halftime, thanks mostly to Powell, who fell just four points short of his career high after playing only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

After O'Bannon scored five straight to open the second half and give Louisville its first and only lead at 33-31, Powell spotted up for a 3-pointer to grab the lead back. On the next possession, he shot an open 3, which he missed, but grabbed the rebound himself for a two-handed jam.

In all, he scored 12 of Illinois' first 14 points in the second half, mixing lay-ups, short, spinning jumpers, another 3-pointer and one other putback of a teammate's miss.

Leading 64-55 and with both teams unable to score for nearly 2 minutes, it was Powell who layed in another teammate's miss to make it 66-55 with 2:30 left and begin the celebration.

When the buzzer sounded, several Illini stuck their forefingers in the air — as good a symbol as any for the team that has been ranked No. 1 since December and now has one more win to end what Weber called a fairytale season.




Keep the bus running and point it toward St. Louis

Thanks to a jaw-dropping comeback, Illinois' journey has another leg left: the Final Four.

With Deron Williams leading the way, the Illini staged an electrifying and improbable rally to force overtime and then held on to beat Arizona 90-89 Saturday night to win the Chicago Regional.

Trailing 75-60 with four minutes left, Illinois showed why it was No. 1 most of the season.

"It's heart man, it's just heart," Illinois' Dee Brown said. "The whole time I was saying 'If it was meant to be, it was meant to be.' And I guess it was meant to be that we go to the Final Four."

The Illini (36-1), who've been able to drive to their two tournament sites in Indianapolis and suburban Chicago so far, can keep on busing.

In St. Louis, they will play Louisville (33-4), which rallied from a 20-point deficit Saturday to beat West Virginia 93-85 in overtime and take the Albuquerque Regional.

The last time two regional final games went into overtime in the same year was 1992 when Michigan beat Ohio State, and Duke eliminated Kentucky.

Williams tied this game and capped a stunning 20-5 run by hitting a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left in regulation, making it 80-80.

Arizona (30-7) went up by 15 points with four minutes to go after an 18-6 spurt that momentarily silenced a large, orange-clad partisan crowd.

But the Illini didn't play like it was over. And it wasn't.

Illinois, whose previous largest deficit this season was nine -- in another victory -- made a final run. It was a great one, and the crowd went wild.

Luther Head hit a 3-pointer, Brown made a basket in the lane, Head scored after a steal, Williams drove for a basket and then made a steal and fed Brown for another basket with 45 seconds left.

After Jack Ingram deflected an inbounds pass, Williams hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 38 seconds to go.

Salim Stoudamire, the hero of Arizona's semifinal win over Oklahoma State with a last-second game-winner, dribbled the clock down and then passed the ball to Jawann McClellan. He missed but Stoudamire came up with the rebound, only to have his shot blocked by Head.

Williams hit two more 3-pointers in overtime, but Illinois' victory wasn't secured until Arizona's Hassan Adams, who'd scored five points to get the Wildcats within a point, missed a shot just before the final buzzer.

Illinois players swarmed the floor in celebration of the school's first Final Four trip since 1989.

"We just played very hard down the stretch," Brown said. "Deron Williams, the best guard in America, came through, made a lot of great plays. In the huddle we just said we aren't gong to lose this game."

Williams opened overtime with a 3-pointer, Channing Frye had two baskets to give the Wildcats a one-point lead but Roger Powell's dunk gave the advantage back to Illinois.

Williams then hit another 3-pointer with just over two minutes left to make it 88-84, and when Head stole a pass and sprinted for a layup, the Illini were up six.

But Adams converted a three-point play with 1:33 remaining and then a follow-up basket to make it 90-89.

After a driving miss by Head with 19 seconds left, Arizona took a final timeout with 11.8 seconds remaining to set up a potential winning shot.

Mustafa Shakur passed to Adams but his jumper was way off and Illinois' celebration had begun.

Williams, a junior who might leave for the NBA, finished with 22 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and had 10 assists. Head, playing with a sore hamstring, added 20.

Stoudamire had a miserable game, making just 2 of 13 shots -- 1-of-7 on 3-pointers -- and scoring just nine points, his chance of going to the Final Four for the first time as a senior erased.

Frye was a force all night and finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots. His 3-pointer with 6:03 left in regulation was the last field goal the Wildcats scored in regulation. Adams scored 21 on 9-of-13 shooting.




Illinois shows its mettle in getting to Final Four


March 27, 2005

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) -- Deron Williams looked up at the scoreboard, frowned and shook his head.

Down 15 with only four minutes to go, Illinois' season of triumph was about to slip away. All those victories, that near-perfect record, a path to the Final Four that seemed tailor-made for the Illini -- none of it would matter. They'd be just another one of those teams that had teetered on the verge of greatness.

And that wasn't good enough. Not even close.

``I just said not to give up,'' Williams said. ``That's what I said on the court. We've just got to keep fighting.''

Led by Williams, Illinois (36-1) mounted a furious comeback that is sure to become an NCAA tournament classic. Williams scored 14 of his 22 points in the last four minutes of regulation and overtime, and Luther Head made huge plays offensively and defensively as Illinois forced OT and then hung on to beat Arizona 80-79 and advance to the Final Four.

Fighting Illini, indeed.

``It's incredible,'' Roger Powell Jr. said. ``We were meant to be in St. Louis.''

And this is the kind of victory that could propel them to a national championship.

``Coaches have told me, to win the national championship you've got to win a close game, make a big shot,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. ``Well, we did it today.''

Though the Illini spent 15 straight weeks at No. 1 and were challenged plenty, they were never really threatened. They lost one game, the regular-season finale, and it took a last-second shot. They led a ridiculous amount, some 90 percent of their games, and never trailed by double digits until Saturday night.

But when it comes to winning a national championship, being good isn't enough. Teams need mental toughness, the grit to hang in there when things get bleak. Louisville proved it has it, coming from 20 points down to beat West Virginia and earn a spot in the Final Four against Illinois.

Now everyone knows the Illini have it, too.

``We've had a goal, a dream to make it to St. Louis,'' Williams said. ``I wasn't going to let (losing) happen.''

Williams is the most gifted player on the team, a rare blend of power, shooting skill, tenacious defense and uncanny vision. He can easily go off for 20-plus points a game, as he did in the Chicago Regional. He was 5-of-9 from 3-point range Saturday night, and he scored 21 on 8-of-12 shooting in Thursday night's semifinal.

But with an ability to see the entire floor and envision plays before they unfold, the point guard is just as content to make his teammates look good. He's averaging 6.7 assists a game, and had 10 on Saturday night.

``I've won some awards this year and he's come up to me a couple of times and congratulated me and I've told him, 'I win because of you.' He's been our foundation,'' Weber said.

``Those shots down the stretch, we could have panicked. That's where Deron comes in. He's got a great feel for the game and he doesn't panic.''

It was Williams who yelled for his teammates to huddle up when all seemed lost, telling them they weren't done yet. And it was Williams who put on a shooting clinic that destroyed the Wildcats' spirit.

After Arizona took its 15-point lead -- the largest deficit Illinois has faced all year -- Williams started the rally with a 3-pointer. After a pair of Arizona free throws, he found Head, who made a 3.

He bulldozed his way inside for a layup that cut the lead to six, then fed Head for another 3. After Jack Ingram poked the ball away from Salim Stoudamire, Williams raced down the court and popped up one more 3-pointer.

Just like that, the game was tied at 80.

Williams was at it again in overtime, having a hand in three of Illinois' four baskets. He made two more 3-pointers, and had an assist on a layup by Powell. He also kept up his pressure on Stoudamire, who never got a chance at last-second heroics because he couldn't get open.

Flustered by Illinois' pressure, the only shot Arizona got was a 3-pointer by Hassan Adams that never had a chance.

``Instead of looking at what went wrong with Arizona, I think you've got to give those kids from Illinois a tremendous amount of praise,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said. ``They did a great job.''

And when it was finally over, the Illinois players let out screams of elation and relief. They piled together in the middle of the floor for a group hug, then gleefully put on the T-shirts and hats that let everyone know they were going to the Final Four.

Just as they promised.

``There was definitely a lot of pressure on us. We made that pressure because we set a goal of getting to the Final Four this year,'' Williams said. ``We were able to get it done. We were able to fight back. That makes it that much more special.''



Big Ten rebounds

Popular belief held that the Big Ten Conference was down. So much for that theory.

Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin restored honor to the league with their deep runs in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. All three advanced to the Elite Eight, which gave the Big Ten the most remaining teams of any conference in the country.

And if Illinois defeats Louisville and Michigan State upsets North Carolina at the Final Four on Saturday, two Big Ten teams would meet in the championship game.

"That would be the best of both worlds," Iowa coach Steve Alford said. "Our league has proven that we get it done year in and year out, and this is another case."

Alford and coaches around the Big Ten said Monday they're proud of the league and that it was unjustifiably maligned because of last season, when only three teams made the NCAA tournament. Five were awarded appearances this year, but that success is more the norm than an aberration.

This is the fourth time since 1992 that the Final Four includes two Big Ten teams. No other conference can match that total. In the past eight years, the Big Ten and Big East are tied atop the nation with 20 teams reaching the Sweet 16.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said he's not surprised Illinois and Michigan State advanced to the Final Four because of their talent and the matchups they drew along the way.

"That's the crazy thing about this conference argument we get into every year," Bilas said. "Nobody knows what it means to be the best conference. Is it the best top to bottom, or who's got the strongest teams at the top? The truth is, it doesn't mean anything. They don't hand out a banner for that.

"The teams at the top of the Big Ten have been really competitive all year long. I don't think anybody could reasonably argue with that."

Who will win the national championship is anybody's guess. Bilas said he believes any of the four teams is capable.

Illinois (36-1) is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and will play fourth-seeded Louisville (33-4). Fifth-seeded Michigan State (26-6) will play top-seeded North Carolina (31-4).

Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State receive much of the credit for the Big Ten's success this season. Wisconsin lost a close game to North Carolina in the regional final. Illinois rallied from a 15-point deficit late in the regional final to stun third-seeded Arizona in overtime. And Michigan State sent No. 1-seeded Duke home, then two days later knocked off second-seeded Kentucky in double overtime to get to the Final Four.

Other teams made the Big Ten a deeper conference than some experts predicted. Iowa and Minnesota also made the NCAA tournament, though both lost in the first round.

Ohio State was considered worthy of the tournament but was ineligible because of a self-imposed penalty for alleged NCAA rules violations under former coach Jim O'Brien. Iowa was ranked as high as No. 14 in the nation in January.

"We had some teams have bad luck," Purdue coach Gene Keady said. "Ohio State was ineligible. Iowa had their leading scorer in trouble. We had our leading scorer hurt his knee. But the whole league is better.

"I'm not sure (television analysts) Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps thought we were. That's why they're not coaching anymore."

Iowa defeated two of the Final Four teams, Louisville and Michigan State, and has played all four this season. Alford said he thinks Illinois and Michigan State have a good chance to win their semifinal games.

Michigan State is one of the deepest teams in the country; eight Spartans play an average of at least 10 minutes, and two others are just below that mark. Illinois guards Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams can take over a game, as they showed in rallying past Arizona.

"They're great teams," Alford said. "They're senior-laden with a lot of upperclassmen. Those are the two most experienced teams in our league. Those kids just got better. Both of those teams have been incredibly consistent all year long."

Each game, Alford said, could come down to a single matchup.

Michigan State freshman point guard Drew Neitzel must be able to hold his own against North Carolina junior Raymond Felton, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. Illinois senior forward Roger Powell Jr. will match his skills against Louisville freshman forward Juan Diego Palacios.

Bilas agreed that those matchups are key, given that the teams' best players essentially should match one another. But he added that Michigan State big man Paul Davis must find a way to contain North Carolina's Sean May, selected a first-team All-American by ESPN.com.

"You've got some great matchups, and I think they can go either way," Alford said. "I think Illinois is hard to beat, and proved it again when they were down and out in the regional final and came back. I do think the pressure is off Michigan State. I think their seniors had pressure to do what their predecessors had done."

Louisville and Michigan State will be the most relaxed teams, Alford said, because they're the lower-seeded teams and, as such, the underdogs.

No matter what happens, though, the Big Ten has reclaimed its lost luster.

"We're very excited and proud, especially since there was so much talk about our league not doing well and being down," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. "Funny how that's not necessarily the chatter right now, and with good reason."


Illini have embraced their chief

Bruce Weber allowed a few tears to fall after his Illinois team staged one of the great comebacks in NCAA Tournament history and claimed its place in the Final Four.

You can be sure it wasn't the first time he cried this month.

But it was the best.

In early March, Weber mourned the passing of his mother, Dawn, a dedicated basketball fan who raised more than one accomplished coach.

In late March, he was celebrating Illinois' first appearance in the Final Four since 1989.

"It's a dream come true," Weber says. "The last two weeks have been very much up and down. I thought about my mom and dad. I wish they were here. They'd have been so proud."

Weber's orchestration of this team, directing it to a 36-1 record, has been brilliant. This is not a perfect squad. The Illini talk boldly about their frontcourt not being a weakness, but in the Chicago Regional final against Arizona, they allowed big man Channing Frye to dominate them before taking over with a furious comeback that erased a 15-point deficit in the last 4 minutes.

Weber had to design ways to cover for that smallish frontcourt and to make the most of the advantage provided by the Illini's backcourt of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.

The Illinois players did not immediately embrace Weber when he took over for Bill Self before last season. "It took awhile, not just for me but for a lot of the guys," reserve center Nick Smith says. "Coach Self, he was one of those guys who'd put his arm around you, ask about your girlfriend. When somebody comes in who is much more like a teacher, it takes awhile."

Weber eventually reached the Illini. His three-guard design resulted in Head, Brown and Williams all being named first-team All-Big Ten. Weber held the team together in a desperate situation against Arizona. There was no grand design behind the Illinois comeback. Weber ordered a man-to-man press something that would speed up and disturb Arizona's ballhandlers.

Coming out of a timeout with 45 seconds left and the Illini down three points, Weber noticed the Wildcats had moved Frye forward to provide an easy outlet for the inbounds pass. Weber frantically waved center Jack Ingram forward to challenge Frye and sent Williams deep to guard against a long pass.

Thus Ingram was in position to tip the ball away from Frye to Head, and two passes later Williams tied the game with his 3-pointer. The Illini won in overtime.

Dawn Weber was not there to see it, just as she was not there when her son David coached Glenbrook North High to an Illinois state championship days after her funeral. "He did his part," Bruce Weber says. "Now we've got to do ours."

Illinois starting five
Player Comment
G Luther Head, Sr. Once best known as an athletic finisher, Head enters the Final Four as a shooter first. He's playing with an injured hamstring that makes even layups a chore. Head excels as a catch-and-shoot player and can score off of one quick bounce. He has some point guard skills and moves the ball well enough to pile up assists.
G Deron Williams, Jr. He's an excellent passer from the perimeter and on the break, but he is inconsistent in creating plays on penetration. His shooting can slump, but he's always dangerous.
G Dee Brown, Jr. His power and quickness can overwhelm opponents. Brown often takes advantage of less gifted ballhandlers for steals. He has NBA range but sometimes gets frustrated by misses.
F Roger Powell, Sr. Powell is tough and rebounds well in traffic but occasionally struggles to finish against a big or athletic defender. He has 3-point range but is less likely to use it in close games.
C James Augustine, Jr. He's used to facing shorter players and is less comfortable against opponents his size. He has good feet and skills and excels against one-on-one coverage.
BENCH Coach Bruce Weber is reluctant to use reserves other than big man Jack Ingram, who is tough and can shoot but doesn't rebound well. Richard McBride is a big step down from the top three guards. Springy forward Warren Carter has been playing more.
  

Scouts views
If somebody can match their quickness, I would try to go get them and try to be disciplined with my pressure and try to wear them down.

They share the ball and and pass the ball better than any team I've ever coached against. You could have some real ego clashes; they've only had one guy get 23 points or better. For them to put all that stuff aside and just play, that means they've got the mental toughness. That means they've got the demeanor. They can play fullcourt or halfcourt. There's so little margin for error when you play them. You have got to do everything right.

If they didn't have those guards who wouldn't want James Augustine? On a normal team, he'd be getting 15, 16, 20 points a game because you'd go to him.


Webers turn sorrow into celebration of family, basketball

April 2, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Sometime in the next few weeks, the Weber family will get together and begin the healing.

For now, though, there is basketball.

The game is the thread that ties the Webers together, and never more so than this last month. Instead of turning inward with grief over Dawn Weber's sudden death, the Webers have taken comfort in basketball, watching one of her sons, David, win a state high school championship while another, Bruce, leads his team to the Final Four.

``We miss Mom tremendously,'' said Ron Weber, the oldest of Dawn's three sons. ``I should be getting ready to take her down to St. Louis. But a real good thing has been we've been able to get involved in the success of Illinois and Glenbrook North. I guess that's kind of eased the pain a little bit.''

Dawn Weber's children all left their hometown of Milwaukee, fanning out across the Midwest. Ron is in northern Wisconsin, where he's a coach at Waupaca High School; Bruce is in Champaign, Ill., after stops at Southern Illinois and Purdue; David is a coach at Glenbrook North in suburban Chicago; and daughter Jan is an educator in the Chicago area.

But Dawn Weber kept tabs on all of them, getting to games when she could and catching up by phone and TV when she couldn't. When David and Bruce both had games in Chicago on March 11, the 81-year-old widow eagerly made the trip south, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to see two of her boys at work.

But when she went to the United Center to pick up her tickets for the Big Ten tournament, Dawn Weber complained of chest pains. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors discovered a tear in her aorta below the heart.

Several hours into surgery, she died.

Despite their shock and grief, David and Bruce stayed with their teams. Dawn Weber insisted upon it, telling Ron and Jan before she went into surgery that she wanted her sons to keep coaching and not worry about her.

``We knew how important our lives and our careers were to my mom and my dad. We knew we had to go on with it, and there's no doubt they would be so excited, so proud,'' Bruce Weber said Friday, the same day he was honored as The Associated Press coach of the year.

``They sacrificed so much for us to be where we are now. They wanted us to have a better life. They wanted us to be teachers and coaches,'' he said. ``So we're living their dream.''

And they're doing it just as Dawn and Louis would have wanted, as a family.

Ron and Jan and their families have made their brothers a priority these last three weeks, getting to every Glenbrook North and Illinois game that they can.

When David's Glenbrook North team was in Peoria, playing for the Illinois Class AA title, Bruce's team was in Indianapolis for its first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament. So Ron and his wife went to Peoria for Friday night's quarterfinals, then drove to Indianapolis. Jan and her family stayed behind in Peoria, calling Ron constantly with updates while he filled her in on Illinois' games.

After David's team triumphed, he joined his siblings on the family caravan. When Illinois advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1989, all of the Webers were on hand to celebrate with Bruce.

``I think us making it to the Final Four, even though you can't take away from that loss, it's helped him get through it,'' guard Deron Williams said. ``It's helped him have a bright spot in his days.''

The Webers are together again in St. Louis, almost two dozen strong now. Brothers, sister, nieces, nephews -- all reveling in Bruce and David's success.

And honoring Dawn Weber's legacy.

``In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this would happen to us,'' David Weber said. ``It's allowed us to really celebrate the life my mom had. It really made us realize how lucky we are as a family.''




Illinois' Weber AP coach of year

April 1, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Bruce Weber, who led Illinois to its winningest season, was an overwhelming choice Friday as The Associated Press national coach of the year.

It was just the latest reward for a spectacular season for Weber, in only his second year at Champaign.

The Illini (36-1), who play Louisville in the national semifinals Saturday, were ranked No. 1 the final 15 weeks of the season, and were unanimous six times. Only two other Illinois teams, in 1952 and 1989, were ever ranked No. 1, and both also reached the Final Four, but neither lasted on top more than a week during the season.

Weber received 54 votes from the 72-member national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25.

Mike Krzyzewski of Duke received six votes, while Al Skinner of Boston College had five and Lorenzo Romar of Washington had four.

Weber succeeded Bill Self at Illinois two years ago and led the Illini to their first outright Big Ten title in 52 years in his first season.

Weber coached Southern Illinois for five seasons, compiling a 103-54 record and leading the Salukis to the NCAA tournament twice, before the Illinois job opened when Self moved to Kansas. Weber was an assistant for 18 seasons to Purdue's Gene Keady, the coach of the year in 1996.

Weber's 81-year-old mother, Dawn, died suddenly the day the Illini beat Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. He didn't miss a game as Illinois went on to win the conference title and then won four games as the NCAA tournament's overall No. 1 seed. The Illini reached the Final Four with a memorable 90-89 overtime victory over Arizona, a game in which they trailed by 15 with 4 minutes left in regulation.

Weber is the first Illinois coach to win the award and the first from the Big Ten since Tom Izzo of Michigan State in 1998. Izzo's Spartans also reached the Final Four this season, setting up the possibility of an all-Big Ten national championship game.

Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's won the award last season.


Chief Illiniwek Photos