Champaign wishes

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The stakes are high and the opponent has a legendary history, yet Illinois players say Friday's matchup against Duke is just another game.

"We look forward to advancing, going deep in the tournament," Illinois guard Dee Brown said Tuesday. "We know we're one of the best teams out there."

The Illini moved to the Atlanta Regional semifinals at the Georgia Dome after vanquishing Murray State and Cincinnati on the tournament's opening weekend by a combined 43 points.

"This is what you dream of," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "This is why you play on the playground, to get to this point and be in this situation."

The Illini have played only one poor game since January, their 72-53 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game. They've won 14 of their last 15 games and advanced with a 64 percent shooting performance against Cincinnati.

Weber said defeating Duke, the region's No. 1 seed, will require the kind of effort his team displayed in beating the Bearcats.

"Maybe not quite as perfect. Obviously you're not going to shoot like that, that just happens in rare instances during the season," Weber said. "But the intensity level, the ball movement, finding the open man, all of those things have got to happen if we're going to have a chance."

Duke is trying to advance to a regional championship game for the 16th time.

"You can't ask for much more," Illinois reserve center Nick Smith said. "I don't think anybody's going to pick us to win this game, outside of this state. If we can go on the national stage and take out probably the most prestigious team in college basketball there's no telling how far we can go."

Illinois' three starting guards -- Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head -- combined for 51 points and 26 assists Sunday, but Weber said Friday's game could come down to which team plays the better inside game and has the better bench.

"Once it comes down to the game, you've got to have a good game plan, you've got to keep executing,"Weber said. "When they adjust you have to adjust to counter what they did."

Getting past the second round of the tournament was a season-long goal, Weber said. But the players want more.

"They've been the ones that have talked about going to San Antonio since the beginning of the year," Weber said. "Do they truly want to get there? Are they willing to give that effort that you're going to need over the next two games? You're going to need special efforts to get there."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: