1:00 PM ET, November 27, 2004
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- After three straight blowout wins, Illinois (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) was looking forward to its first real test Saturday against Gonzaga (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP).Now it looks as though the Illini will have to wait until top-ranked Wake Forest comes to Champaign, Ill., on Wednesday.Deron Williams and Luther Head scored 20 points apiece to lead Illinois to an 89-72 win over Gonzaga in the John Wooden Tradition at Conseco Fieldhouse.The Illini (4-0) set the tone from the opening tip, using superior 3-point shooting and suffocating defense to dominate the Bulldogs (3-1) and set up an early-season showdown with the Demon Deacons next week."We just came out and tried to make a statement, show we're for real," Williams said.They certainly did.Illinois made 14 of 28 3-pointers and scored 29 points off 19 Gonzaga turnovers to turn the game into a rout in the first five minutes."We were thoroughly dominated today, in every phase of the game," Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. "There were times it didn't appear we belonged out there on the court."Adam Morrison led Gonzaga with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Ronny Turiaf added 12 points and nine rebounds.Williams got the Illini started on an 11-0 run early in the first half, and they never looked back. Illinois forced seven turnovers in the first five minutes, which led to 14 points and an 18-4 lead.Gonzaga's game plan going in was to get the ball down low to Turiaf, who was coming off a career-high 40 points in a win over Idaho on Wednesday.However, every time Turiaf touched the ball Saturday, he was immediately surrounded by two or three Illinois players, forcing him to pass out of the post."They're young, but we bothered them even when Turiaf had good position," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "He was saying, 'Get me the ball!' But by the time they could get it to him, it was too late."Turiaf couldn't handle the pressure. He had six turnovers, including one pass out of a double team that landed in the second row of the stands."Every time I touched the ball, there were two guys on me and three others watching me," Turiaf said. "I tried to find my teammates and did a poor job ... I did a pathetic job tonight."And his teammates just couldn't pick up the slack. Morrison scored 11 points in the first half, but he was the only player at all effective against the deep and athletic Illini.The Illini made 10 of 17 3-pointers and shot 55 percent from the field in the first half to take control."We shoot the ball so well, and with such confidence," said Head, who also had nine assists. "Once we start making shots, it's going to be a long night for the other team."They closed the half in convincing fashion, with a 3-pointer by Williams, a layup by Roger Powell and a layup by Head at the buzzer for a 58-27 lead that turned the second half into garbage time.The Bulldogs were overwhelmed by the lightning-quick Illini break and physical inside play and trailed by as many as 38 points in the second half.Dee Brown was the facilitator, pushing the ball relentlessly up the floor. Brown finished with 17 points and eight assists.Gonzaga outrebounded Illinois 39-26, but that was about the only thing the Bulldogs did right."That's a really, really good basketball team," Few said. "Everybody is back. They're hungry. I don't think they have any weaknesses at all."It was all Illinois in a performance that surely got Wake Forest's attention."It's a great game. This is the kind of game you're going to play in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight," Weber said. "Can you compete? Anything like this is going to help us down the road."