Brewer Played Big-Time

NORTH LITTLE ROCK – Heading into Saturday's game here against Arkansas, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Hogs sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer would probably be a "mismatch" for his team.

Weber tossed Deron Williams at him, mixed in some Dee Brown and added Rich McBride for size.

Turned out the only thing that could stop the 6-foot-7 Brewer during No. 5 Illinois' 72-60 win was the free-throw line.

Something definitely was Brewing as the Hogs went blow-for-blow with the Big Ten's toughest team.

Brewer was everywhere, waving those long arms, springing from those tube-socked legs, defending, driving, stealing, swishing, passing, harassing.

"He's a great player," said an exhausted Williams, the Big Ten's Preseason Player of the Year.

Clearly charged for this challenge – "You've definitely got to get up (for a game like this)" – Brewer was electrifying.

Brewer started the scoring with a free throw and his second 3-pointer gave Arkansas a 12-11 lead.

Playing point guard and from the wings, Brewer had a game-high 11 points at the half (when Arkansas trailed 40-31).

But he had Illinois' number at the start of the second.

Brewer intercepted a pass on the Fighting Illini's first second-half possession before flying upcourt and lobbing a perfect alley-oop pass to Olu Famutimi, whose slam brought the 13,140 fans in Alltel Arena back to life.

Next Illinois possession, Brewer ripped the ball from Williams and streaked for a two-hand slam to pull the Hogs within 42-35.

His drive made it 45-37. Taking a backdoor beauty of a pass from Eric Ferguson, Brewer dunked for 45-39. Next Arkansas possession, he swished a jumper from the free-throw line for 47-41.

Brewer's jump-stop, two-hand dunk over Illinois center James Augustine brought the Hogs to within 60-55 with over seven minutes remaining and brought roaring Arkansas fans to their feet.

"Coach wanted me to go out there and be aggressive," Brewer said. "I didn't do anything different. I just tried to get my team in the game.

"There was a lot of hype going into this game. We wanted to go out there and play as hard as we could the way we play. You've got to play your style of play and be aggressive every time you touch the ball."

But the Hogs would get no closer in what turned out to be a free-throw shooting contest the last seven minutes.

"He gave us a big lift out of halftime, made some exciting plays that really got the crowd into the game," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "Energized our team. We fed off of that and continued to make runs and close the gap. Couldn't quite get there."

Brewer helped hold Williams and Brown to 13 points each.

He scored a game-high 21 points (9 of 14 from the field) and had 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 34 minutes.

But what he mostly remembered was going 1 of 7 from the free-throw line.

"Knock down our free throws, we beat the best team in the nation," said Brewer, sighing.

Take away Brewer's field-goal shooting, though, and the Hogs managed just 10 of 38 from the floor. No other Hog scored in double figures.

"We needed another guy out there that could give us some more punch," Heath said.

Last season, Brewer scored just 11 points in 26 minutes during Arkansas' 84-61 loss against Illinois in Chicago's United Center. And he had 7 turnovers.

The animated Weber was mighty impressed with Brewer's progress.

"He played very well," Weber said. "He's shooting the ball much better. They play him at the point, then (Eric) Ferguson comes in, and they play him at the 2 or 3. He's shooting the ball well from 3, but also those curls in the paint.

"Now he's 6-6, 6-7, and even if we were there, he was able to go over us.

"I think he's much further along than last year – their whole team is."

The Hogs proved that point. Brewer and company weren't out for moral victories, yet they scored one.

"We feel kind of good because I think (now) everybody knows that we've got a really good team," Brewer said. "People's been saying it, but they haven't really gotten to see it against the teams we've been playing.

"So we played against a real quality team and we hung with ‘em and gave ‘em all we could. We just didn't come out with a win.

"So we come out of this game very confident."

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