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Brown regains shooting touch as No. 5 Illinois cruises

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Dee Brown feels the pressure. The
expectations on Illinois are high and how far the Illini go largely
hinges on their point guard's performance, which hadn't been great
lately.

"I've got to continue to play well. We're a better team when I
play well. That's the pressure of being an athlete," Brown said.

Brown broke out of his shooting slump with 18 points and had
eight assists to lead Illinois (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today; No. 7 AP) to a 58-47 victory over
Northwestern on Saturday.

After shooting a combined 9 of 39 in the previous three games,
Brown was 6-for-10 and 2-for-5 from 3-point range, banking one from
the top as the shot clock expired just over seven minutes into the
game.

Rich McBride added 12 points, and Shaun Pruitt grabbed 10
rebounds for the Illini (17-2, 3-2 Big Ten).

Coming off a 62-60 loss Tuesday at Indiana (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today; No. 13 AP), Illinois hit
9-of-23 3-pointers.

Northwestern (9-8, 2-4) shot 35 percent (17-for-48) on its way
to its fourth straight loss.

Mohamed Hachad scored all of his 14 points in the second half
for Northwestern. Leading scorer Vedran Vukusic missed his first 13
shots and scored a season-low five points, his first game in single
digits. His first basket was a 3-pointer that pulled Northwestern
to within 53-43 with 1:37 left in the game.

But the Illini hung on.

"We've got to decide are we going forward?" coach Bruce Weber
said. "Are we going to be special? Or are we just going to be
OK?"

A year ago, Illinois was special. It reached the NCAA finals for
the first time.

This season?

Weber said the Illini are better defensively than offensively.

"These guys know how important it is," Weber said. "We're
locked in. We've done a nice job. We can't let our offense affect
our defense. We break down on the defensive end because somebody
misses a shot and they don't run back. Or they don't communicate."

Despite a 121-34 series advantage and a three-game sweep last
season, Illinois has had some difficulties at Northwestern, losing
by 10 two years ago. This looked like an easy one until the
Wildcats made things interesting in the second half.

With Illinois up 46-21, Northwestern went on a 14-2 run to pull
to within 48-35 with 4:28 left in the game. The Wildcats cut it to
12.

Then, Vukusic hit that 3 to make it a 10-point game. Otherwise,
it was a quiet game for him.

The Big Ten's leading scorer at 20.9 points entering the game,
shot 1-for-14 and had six rebounds. It was his worst game since
Dec. 1, 2003, when he had three points in 32 minutes in a loss at
Florida State.

He had open looks and kept missing.

"I was surprised they weren't falling," Vukusic said. "The
guys on the team kept saying, 'Shoot, shoot, shoot."

Maybe that was because they weren't hitting their shots, either.

The Wildcats' 17 baskets were two more than their season-low and
tied for the fewest by an Illinois opponent.

Northwestern's Vince Scott scored 30 seconds into the game, but
the Wildcats missed their next six field goals over the next
seven-plus minutes as Illinois opened a 13-4 lead. Brian Randle,
McBride and Brown hit 3-pointers during that stretch, and Illinois
never looked back.

With more than half the crowd of 8,117 decked out in orange, the
Illini made themselves at home.

Illinois picked apart Northwestern's 2-1-2 trap and took the
Wildcats out of their offense. They seemed flustered and did not
get the ball to Vukusic in the post.

Brown, meanwhile, found his stroke.

"I'm going to shoot 'em, anyway," said Brown, who was 1-for-9
against Indiana. "I'm going to go 1-for-9, 1-for-30, 1-for-50. If
I don't make one more shot this season, I'm still going to play the
way I play and do the things I do."

The only anxious moment for the Illini in the first half was
when Randle caught an elbow to his forehead and fell as he tried to
finish an alley-oop about nine minutes into the game. He got five
stitches and returned with 2:03 left in the first half.

"I was tipping the ball around, and the next thing I know, I
got an elbow," Randle said. "I went down. I thought I had a bump.
I took my hand from my head and there was blood."