Home > Illinois basketball > Sense of urgency leads Illini to first NCAA Tournament win post-Dee

Sense of urgency leads Illini to first NCAA Tournament win post-Dee

Call them late bloomers.

But the Illini finally seemed to learn from a year of missed opportunities and late collapses, showing an unforeseen sense of urgency at the most urgent hour of the season.

“I remember (senior center Mike) Tisdale in the huddle every TV timeout he said, ‘Keep your foot on the pedal. Keep your foot on the pedal,’” Mike Davis said after the ninth-seeded Illini’s 73-62 second round NCAA Tournament win over eighth-seeded UNLV at the BOK Center in Tulsa. “So, that’s what we did.”

Bruce Weber’s already salt-and-pepper mane may have more salt after the 2010-11 escapades, but he couldn’t have asked for a better Friday night in Tulsa.

“We played like we expected to all season,” Weber said.

The final score doesn’t do justice of the ninth-seeded Illini’s dominance of UNLV (24-9) in the second round of the Southwest Regional.

The Illini (20-13) defense set the tone, packing the lane and daring the Rebels to shoot. UNLV obliged, missing eight straight from beyond the arc as the Illini’s run-and-gun tempo built a 22-point halftime lead. The Illini finished with 18 fastbreak points.

The four seniors avoided the reputation as the class to leave Illinois with no tournament wins, combining for 47 points. Demetri McCamey looked like the December, possible All-America version. He looked like the NBA player on a college court, shredding the Rebels defense for 17 points and seven assists. The once-inconsistent Mike Davis continued his two-month A-game with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

“We were fighting for our lives. We knew if we lost this game it was the last one for the seniors and the last one in an Illini uniform for the seniors,” McCamey said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”

The sophomore guards handled the Rebels’ pressure defense. One (Brandon Paul) was active everywhere with eight points, four assists and a career-high eight rebounds, while the other (D.J. Richardson) had his best performance in a month, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 including two threes to maintain Illini’s lead late.

Even freshmen Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard contributed four points. The only cog missing was Big Ten All-Freshmen Team honoree Jereme Richmond, who was benched for a “violation of athletic department, team rules,” according to Weber. The Illini coach said the team will “talk about” Richmond’s status for Sunday’s third-round game with No. 1 seed Kansas.

But what would have been a major storyline with a loss became notebook material following the Illini’s first NCAA Tournament post-Dee Brown.

“I think the fans bring it up, talk about it then you guys talk about it,” Weber said of Illinois winning its first NCAA game in 1,828 days. “It meant something to our kids, our seniors. Now, I hope they want more.”

Categories: Illinois basketball
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