Big men carry Illinois to Sweet 16

Published March 20, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - Conventional wisdom suggests that if you can contain guards Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head, then you have a shot to beat top-ranked Illinois.

Tell that to the Nevada Wolf Pack.

It used that strategy - and often-overlooked forward James Augustine scored a career-high 23 points. Reserve center Jack Ingram added a career-best 12 to lead the Fighting Illini to a 71-59 win Saturday night at the RCA Dome.

The Illini (34-1) move on to meet surprising Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Sweet 16 in the Chicago Region on Thursday. Coach Bruce Weber graduated from that school.

"We knew their strength was their inside presence and we felt the best way to counteract that was go right at them," Ingram said. "We felt we could get some advantages, especially if they tried to take our guards away and zone off we felt we'd get some opportunities."

He and Augustine didn't just get opportunities.

They made the most of them.

Augustine hit 9 of 11 and added 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks; Ingram made 6 of 7 and had three rebounds, three steals and a block. "It's (NCAA) Tournament time and I've been playing well lately and I just came ready to play," Augustine said. "The guys did a great job of getting me the ball. ... Everything kind of went my way. I know (Nick) Fazekas is a big (NBA) prospect and (Kevinn) Pinkney is one of their bigs and a key to their team; that's what everybody was talking about. I wanted to go out and prove something."

He and Ingram did, especially in the first half. With the score tied at 17 with 5:54 to go before intermission, the two combined for their team's next 17 points for a 34-27 halftime advantage.

"Illinois has five offensive weapons on the floor, or at least four," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "You have to give up something. We felt the best chance we had to win was take away the 3-point line."

By chasing the guards, his team held Illinois to 1 of 6 from beyond the arc in the half; Illinois was 2-for-12 in the game, a season low in both total and percentage (16.7). "We knew there'd be a post guy open on the perimeter and if he made shots, we were going to be in trouble," Fox said.

Even with Brown bothered by stomach cramps (he also was dazed running blindly into a screen set by the 6-10, 245-pound Pinkney), the Illini guards revved up in the second half and Nevada (25-7) found itself in deeper trouble.

For the first time in a few games, the Illini rediscovered the dominating persona it had for so much of the season: Smothering defense, sharing the ball (Williams had 10 assists and 15 points) and creating good space for one another to operate. That allowed Illinois to take a 59-37 lead midway through the half, bringing the large contingent of its fans to its feet.

"It's the best (offensive) rhythm we've had in a long time," Weber said.

The defense wasn't shabby, either. Nevada shot 37 percent from the field and Fazekas, the WAC player of the year who has been in a self-described "funk" since breaking his nose five games ago, was 5 of 20.

Still, Illinois lost its intensity when the Wolf Pack, which reached the Sweet 16 last season before losing to eventual runnerup Georgia Tech, went to a zone. The Wolf Pack got as close as nine a couple of times in the waning moments, but never really threatened.

And Augustine left pumping his fist to a standing ovation. So much for conventional wisdom.

Arizona cruises past UAB

BOISE, Idaho - The pressure never let up. Neither did the crowding, pushing and slapping.

How did Arizona handle it? With a shrug - and now the Wildcats are headed to the region semifinals for the fourth time in five years.

Arizona didn't buckle under UAB's relentless defense and Salim Stoudamire provided plenty of offense with five 3-pointers and 28 points, helping the Wildcats move on with a 85-63 victory.

Arizona (29-6) struggled with Utah State's deliberate style in the first round and had plenty of trouble with UAB's frenetic, trapping defense most of the first half. The Wildcats led by nine at halftime despite the pressure, then cleaned up the mistakes in the second half, committing only four turnovers.

Arizona faces either Oklahoma State or Southern Illinois, who play today in Oklahoma City, in the next round.

"It shows our versatility," Arizona center Channing Frye said. "We work on beating the press every day in practice. Nothing we see out there is a surprise."

UAB (22-11) played its usual helter skelter pace but made just 6-of-30 from 3-point range - the team's forte - and shot 32 percent overall.