Illinois extends tournament streak to eight straight years

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Illinois used the Big Ten tournament to secure a spot.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Bruce Weber spent the weekend trying to decide what he would say to his team if Illinois was left out of the NCAA tournament.

He never came up with the right words, but didn't need to, as the Illini landed the No. 12 seed in the West regional Sunday for its eighth-straight trip to the tournament.

Illinois will face No. 5 seed Virginia Tech Virginia Tech (21-11, 10-6 ACC) on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

"I'm just elated, really excited for the kids," Weber said. "It's been such a tough season, they could have laid down, let people roll over them, and they haven't. I think they're very deserving of getting in."

The Illini (23-11, 9-7 Big Ten) were considered a bubble team for much of the season, after a rash of injuries and off-court incidents wreaked havoc on the lineup.

But a trip to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and a winning conference record turned out to be enough to put the Illini on the bracket.

Illinois is one of six Big Ten teams in this year's NCAA tournament.

"We've been going through a rough, emotional time," Illinois guard Chester Frazier said. "The way we're finishing up is amazing."

If Illinois wins Friday it could play downstate neighbor Southern Illinois, the No. 4 seed in the West regional.

The winner of that game could play No. 1 seed Kansas and Bill Self, the coach Weber replaced at Illinois.

Illinois defeated Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tourney, then topped Indiana before falling 53-41 to Wisconsin, the eventual runner-up.

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