CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- With about 2½ minutes still left in the
game, Illinois' rabid "Orange Krush" student section started
chanting "WE'RE No. 1! WE'RE No. 1!"
Illinois (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) certainly made a case for the top ranking
Wednesday night, turning No. 1 Wake Forest into a nonconference
patsy with a 91-73 rout that wasn't nearly as close as the score
"They played infinitely better than we did. I don't know how
much more clearly I can say it," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser
said. "They made shots that were open, they made shots that were
contested. Their offense was exponentially better than our defense,
hence the score of the game."
Roger Powell Jr. scored 19 points, Dee Brown and Luther Head
added 16 each and the Illini (5-0) beat Wake Forest (5-1) in every
single phase of the game. Illinois led by double-digits the last
28-plus minutes of the game, and were up by as much as 32 in the
That was even with Deron Williams having an off night. Williams,
the preseason pick as Big Ten player of the year, missed much of
the first half because of foul trouble and finished with only eight
points, though he did have a team-high 11 assists.
"Playing without Deron, the best player, player of year is
tough," said Brown, who added seven assists. "He's a great asset
to our team, but when he goes out, someone else has got to step up,
and I think Luther and Rog and myself made some shots and played
The Illini were so dominant in stretches they looked like the
Globetrotters. They held the Demon Deacons to 39 percent shooting,
and their two best players were never a factor. Chris Paul, the
leading vote-getter on the AP's preseason All-America team, had 10
while Justin Gray, MVP of the preseason NIT, had 11.
"I don't know what to say," Brown said when asked if the
Illini should be No. 1. "After that performance, you tell me."
The Illini are now 2-19 in games against No. 1 teams -- but they
won both played at Assembly Hall. They beat then-No. 1 Michigan
State 57-55 in 1979 -- if it's any consolation to the Demon Deacons,
the Spartans still won the national championship that year.
Illinois has now won 35 straight at home against non-conference
opponents, a streak dating back to Nov. 17, 1998. The Illini are
67-3 overall at Assembly Hall since the 2000-01 season.
"You don't get many chances to play a No. 1 team on national
television," said Jamaal Levy, who had six points and seven
rebounds. "They were definitely ready. They proved they wanted
And Wake Forest, which earned its first No. 1 ranking last week,
proved it has some work to do. Though the Demon Deacons won the
preseason NIT last weekend, they looked at times like they were
still trying to find their rhythm against Providence and Arizona.
Illinois didn't give the Deacons time to catch their feet, let
alone get a rhythm. Harassed and badgered anytime they tried to get
close to the basket, the Demon Deacons had no answer for Illinois'
speed -- or its smoothness.
"We're a good team, but the way they shot the ball they
couldn't be stopped," Paul said. "And then they'd turn around and
The Illini shot a blistering 60 percent, including 8-of-16 from
3-point range as they raced out to a 54-33 lead at the half. They
had assists on 27 of their 38 baskets, and they played with a
crispness that will make opposing coaches jealous -- and a little
"We tried different defenses, but the bottom line from a
defensive standpoint was we couldn't guard them in man-to-man,"
With the crowd of 16,618 evved up for "Paint the Hall Orange"
night -- even Illini coach Bruce Weber sported a dayglo orange
blazer -- Illinois took a seven-point lead five minutes into the
game and Wake Forest never recovered. The Illinois broke the game
open with a 10-4 run midway through the first half, sparked by a
play that symbolized the kind of night it was.
Brown fed James Augustine for what was supposed to be an
alleyoop, but the ball rolled slowly around the back of the rim
before trickling into the net.
Paul finally ended the run with a jumper, but Brown and Powell
were soon at it again. Brown scored on a baseline jumper and a 3,
and Powell hit another 3 before scoring on what had to be the most
impressive shot of the night.
Working the shot clock down to the final seconds and with no one
else open, Powell spun away from one Wake defender and put up the
softest of hook shots. The crowd oohed as the ball settled into the
basket for the 54-33 lead.
"Some of those shots that go in, I surprised myself
sometimes," Powell said.
The Demon Deacons tried to make a run in the second half,
opening with an 8-4 spurt to pull within 58-41. But Head responded
with a 3-pointer.
"It was damage control after that," Prosser said. "I think
coach Weber has a terrific team. This is a great night for them,
not a great night for Wake Forest. We'll see where we go from