<
>

Illinois nabs Big Ten title for school-record 32nd win

CHICAGO (AP) -- As top-ranked Illinois celebrated its big Ten
tournament title with the traditional net-cutting ceremony, James
Augustine was trying to figure out what he was going to eat.

Then in the middle of the euphoria came an announcement he
wasn't expecting: he'd been voted the MVP of the tournament.

"I was just over there talking to Nick [Smith] about what was
going to be for dinner," Augustine said. "He gave me a hard time
and I had to give a speech. I had no idea. I was surprised with
it."

With Augustine and Roger Power clogging up the middle for most
of the game, the Illini built a 16-point lead and held on Sunday to
beat No. 23 Wisconsin 54-43 for the Big Ten title.

"He [Augustine] said, 'I'm so hungry, what the heck are they
going to have in that room?' He really wasn't thinking about being
the MVP. They're all like that. They're loose and free and very
competitive," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who coached his
second straight game following his mother's death Friday.

Known for its stellar guard play, Illinois' big men were a major
factor in sending the Illini to a school-record 32nd win.

Now on to the NCAAs, where the overall No. 1 seed (32-1) faces
Fairleigh Dickinson in the opening round Thursday at Indianapolis,
a two-hour drive from Champaign.

"At the beginning of the season everybody questioned our big
men. We showed it's not a weakness but one of our strengths," said
guard Deron Williams, who dribbled out the final seconds of the
clock Sunday after the Illini had held off a late Badgers run.

The Illini didn't shoot well again Sunday -- Dee Brown went
scoreless and was 0-for-8 from the field -- but they turned up the
defense, especially on Wisconsin scoring leaders Alando Tucker and
Mike Wilkinson.

"We have showed all year we were able to run with people and go
by them. And at the same time when they make it a slower game --
Wisconsin, that's their style -- we're still able to deal with it,"
Weber said.

Tucker, whose 3-point buzzer-beater in the semifinals carried
the Badgers (22-8) over Iowa, managed just nine points on 4-of-14
shooting but was instrumental in Wisconsin's comeback.

Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin's second-leading scorer, also
struggled, scoring eight points on 1-for-7 shooting as the Badgers
made only 14 of 54 field goal attempts (26 percent).

Top reserve Zach Morley, who had 40 points in the first two
Wisconsin wins, managed five on Sunday.

Augustine and Powell helped each other inside as the Illini
doubled whomever had the ball. Wisconsin made only 14 baskets in
the game.

"He was very aggressive," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of
Augustine, who averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds in the three
tournament games. "He made a statement. He intimidated our guys a
little bit."

Powell finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds Sunday while
Augustine and Luther Head had 12 points apiece. Augustine also
blocked three shots.

Wisconsin (22-8) will keep playing, too, facing Northern Iowa in
a first-round game at Oklahoma City on Friday.

"You can't get too down on yourselves after a loss. You have to
take good with bad," Tucker said. "We'll look at this, see the
things we can improve on and that's going to help us down the
road."

The Illini went up 16 when Head and Powell hit 3-pointers and
then Head raced ahead on a fastbreak for a dunk on a pass from
Brown with 8:42 left.

But Wisconsin, which lost for the third time to Illinois this
season after beating the Illini in the tournament finals a year
ago, had one run left, most with Augustine sitting with his fourth
foul.

Tucker, scoreless in the first half, hit a basket and a
3-pointer, Kammron Taylor made a 3 and two free throws and the
Badgers got to 46-41 with 4:41 to go.

Still trailing 48-43, the Badgers then missed five straight
shots that could have cut into the lead, including a 3-point miss
by Tucker with just over a minute to go.

Powell, fouled on the rebound, then hit two free throws to make
it 50-43. Augustine dropped in two from the line with 36 seconds
left and Powell two more 9 seconds later as the Illini hung on.

Illinois improved to 27-6 at the United Center -- where it has
won 14 straight games and Sunday was boosted by a boisterous
sellout crowd of 22,157, many of them dressed in orange.

Now the Illini, No. 1 since early December, hope to take their
fans on another ride through the NCAA Tournament.

"Hopefully we can do something special," Head said.