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Dee Brown and Deron Williams combine for 42 to help beat the tourney's Cinderella 77-63.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published March 25, 2005
ROSEMONT, Ill. - Illinois guards Dee Brown and Deron Williams hadn't had hot-shooting performances the same night in several weeks, the cause for their fans to fret and opponents to hope.
Oh, if only that trend could continue another night, Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl thought.
Brown and Williams scored 21 as the top-ranked Illini beat the Panthers 77-63 Thursday in the Chicago Region semifinals at the Allstate Arena.
Illinois (35-1), which has reached the Elite Eight three other times, will seek its second Final Four appearance Saturday.
"We knew how it felt to lose in this position last year," Brown said. "Coming out, we wanted to take a step farther in our season." The No. 12-seeded Panthers (26-6), the Horizon League champions who put themselves on the map with wins against No.5 Alabama and No.4 Boston College, were looking to continue a Cinderella story with the biggest upset in the tournament.
"We were trying to make history, so we're obviously disappointed," said Pearl, who was soundly booed when he walked onto the court and introduced for his role in an NCAA investigation 16 years ago that led to probation for Illinois. "But I could not be prouder of my players, my coaches and my school by the way we represented ourselves here (Thursday)." Even with senior guard Ed McCants, the Horizon League's player of the year, struggling, the Panthers kept pace with the Illini and trailed just 39-32 at the half.
It didn't hurt that junior forward Joah Tucker, whom Pearl had called the "best player left in the tournament that nobody knew," scored 20 of his career-high 32 before intermission.
The Panthers trailed by just seven midway through the second half when Williams hit a 3-pointer and Brown a long 3-pointer for a 64-51 lead.
Williams hit 8 of 12 shots and added eight assists. Brown, the Big Ten player of the year, hit 7 of 12, including 5 of 8 3-pointers. Illinois coach Bruce Weber knew he would need Williams. Senior Luther Head, the third guard in the team's vaunted attack, injured his right hamstring Monday, and Weber wasn't sure how well he could play or even if he could play. "As a staff, we were talking (Thursday) that we've got to have Dee step up and make some plays," Weber said.
"It didn't surprise me as much with Deron Williams, but Dee Brown making some tough shots was really uplifting," Pearl said. "It got the crowd in the game, and I think it inspired Illinois."
Illinois pulled away and led by as many as 17, but the Panthers cut the deficit to 71-60. Head then came up with a steal and fed senior forward Roger Powell Jr. for a layup with 2:34. "The guards carried us," junior forward James Augustine said, adding he thought Brown and Williams both played well last weekend in Indianapolis.