IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- The challenges for Illinois started
early, from the moment the Illini got out of bed.
"We had no hot water this morning at the hotel," coach Bruce
Weber said. "That was brutal."
It didn't get any easier after that.
Top-ranked Illinois had to overcome foul problems, a determined
opponent and a subpar game by leading scorer Luther Head to remain
unbeaten with a 75-65 victory over Iowa on Saturday.
"Stuff like this happens all year," Williams said. "It seems
like every game, somebody steps up and does something at the right
The Illini had plenty of that happen Saturday. James Augustine
came up with 13 points and eight rebounds, Head made a key steal
late in the game and 7-foot-2 Nick Smith hit a 3-pointer in the
final minute to preserve a victory that kept several streaks
The Illini are off to their best start ever, have won 23
straight conference games and now have 14 consecutive road
victories. They would clinch the Big Ten championship by winning
their next two games, at home against Northwestern and Purdue.
Illinois finishes the regular season at Ohio State on March 6.
No team has gone unbeaten in Big Ten play since Indiana in 1976.
"If we take care of business at home, now we can clinch the
outright title, then go see what happens at Ohio State," Weber
said. "But that's a long way off. Right now, we're worried about
the bus ride home and Northwestern."
A gritty effort wasn't quite enough for Iowa (16-9, 4-8), which
fell to 1-4 since leading scorer Pierre Pierce was kicked off the
team. The Hawkeyes, lost in overtime at Illinois earlier in the
season, trailed by just two points with 4½ minutes to play before a
14-5 run finished them off.
Every Illinois starter had at least three fouls and forward
Roger Powell had four, which limited him to eight points after he
had made all 10 of his shots against Penn State in the previous
game. The Illini were outrebounded 36-21, Head shot 1-for-7 while
scoring only seven points and they still got it done.
"Good team, good players -- they find a way to make plays,"
Iowa coach Steve Alford said. "They don't feel the pressure. I
think they're as good as anyone in the country."
"We weren't coming in here just to be close," Horner said. "I
thought that we had a chance to win there. We just couldn't make a
play down the stretch."
Roughly 3,500 orange-clad Illinois fans swelled the crowd to a
sellout, just the second for Iowa this season. Both sides had
plenty to cheer during the intense game, one team battling to stay
perfect, the other trying to keep its fading NCAA tournament hopes
Trailing by 12 early in the second half, Iowa kept clawing and
got within two points three times, the last at 60-58 on Mike
Henderson's two free throws with 4:34 left.
Then, as they have done all season when threatened, the Illini
Smith made two free throws, Williams hit a 10-footer and the
ultra-quick Brown scored on a breakaway after Head knocked away an
inbounds pass to make it 66-58. After Horner drained a 3-pointer,
Brown answered with a deep 3 of his own.
When Smith drained a fadeaway 3 from the right corner -- his
second of the season -- with 51 seconds to play, the Illini were up
72-63 and -- finally -- out of danger.
"James was wide open underneath and I was kind of disappointed
(Smith) didn't pass," Weber said. "But it went in and kind of
broke their backs."
Iowa slowed Illinois for much of the first half with solid
defense, starting out in man-to-man, switching to zone and then
back to man. The Illini often had to go deep into the 35-second
clock before getting a shot and once were forced into a violation.
But after Horner passed out of a double team to Erek Hansen for
a wide-open dunk to tie the score at 20, Powell made two free
throws, Williams followed with a jumper and the Illini never
Williams high-arcing shot in the lane with 3 seconds left gave
Illinois a 36-28 halftime lead and he started the second half with
two jumpers to make it 40-28.
The Illini then went more than 5 minutes without a field goal
and Iowa responded with a 10-1 run, drawing to 41-38 on Horner's 3
from the top of the key.
The pattern never changed after that: Iowa threatened and
"We're going to keep coming at teams," Brown said. "If our
shots aren't falling, we're going to keep shooting and making