Jan 17, 2004
By JIM PAUL
Associated Press Writer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A diving save by Deron Williams and a key steal from Dee Brown in the second half displayed the grit Illinois coach Bruce Weber was looking for.
“All we talked about at halftime was fighting,” Weber said. “Our kids played with a lot more energy in the second half.”
And that was the difference in No. 25 Illinois’ 88-82 victory over Iowa on Saturday.
Roger Powell scored 20 points, and Williams had 17 as the Illini (11-4, 2-2 Big Ten) came back from a 43-38 halftime deficit to snap a two-game skid.
Illinois blew a nine-point lead in the first half, but came out of halftime with a 10-0 run and scored 50 points. It was a major turnaround for a team that was outscored 77-56 after halftime in its previous two games.
“Tell them to write us off,” Brown said of those who criticized the Illini following losses to Purdue and Northwestern. “We’re going to fight. Talent-wise, we’re one of the best in the conference. We just have to go out there and execute and believe.”
Williams’ diving save with just over 7 minutes remaining proved to be a key play, even though the Illini didn’t score. The crowd of 16,618 roared to life and kept the noise level up the rest of the way.
“He gave up his body for the team,” Weber said.
Brown’s steal came with 59.4 seconds remaining and he called timeout as he dived out of bounds after stripping the ball from Jeff Horner.
That kept the Illini lead at four, and they converted nine of 10 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
“I think that it was a must-win because it gets our confidence back and gets us back in the winning spirit,” said Brown, who scored 14 points and had eight assists and two steals. Nick Smith added 18 points for Illinois.
Pierre Pierce scored 26 points while playing all 40 minutes and Brady Boyd added 20 for the Hawkeyes (9-5, 2-2).
“We fought possession by possession,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “We just couldn’t get the stops we needed in the second half.”
Iowa played without reserve center Jared Reiner, who is out following surgery on his right foot. The Hawkeyes were hampered by foul trouble and tired as the half wore on, Alford said.
“We have to play through fatigue,” he said. “We couldn’t get Pierre any rest.”
Hawkeyes center Sean Sonderleiter picked up his fourth foul with 13:06 to go and was on the bench while the Illini gained control.
“We just could not get a stop in the last 10 minutes,” Alford said. “We really did a lot of good things offensively, but our defense in the second half was as bad as it’s been all year.”
The Illini also forced Iowa into five charging fouls in the second half.
“The charges were key. The dive on the floor, the deflections, all that stuff made a difference in the game,” Weber said. “We outfought them to get a victory.”