Weber first Illini coach to garner award

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.