Illini fall to Badgers in title game

<p>It turns out the Big Ten tournament championship game didn't mean much. Read here for find out why.

Wisconsin rolled to a 70-53 win over Illinois for its first tournament title on Sunday, then sat and watched as the NCAA selection committee gave a higher seed to the Illini in the NCAA tournament.

The Badgers (24-6) were seeded sixth and will face 11th-seeded Richmond in the first round. Illinois (24-6) got a fifth seed, despite losing to Wisconsin twice this season, and will play 12th-seeded Murray State.

But the Badgers aren't complaining. They'll be playing close to home in Milwaukee.

"I can't see a difference between the 3 through 8 seeds," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I wouldn't want to be in that room, making those decisions. I'm pretty excited about it."

And Devin Harris is even more excited. Sure, his Badgers got seeded lower than they were hoping, but they'll be playing in Harris' hometown.

"We were hoping for Milwaukee," Harris said. "We got a high seed, but we're playing close to home, so it worked itself out."

Harris was spectacular in the Big Ten tournament, never more than in the title game. The tourney's most outstanding player led the Badgers with 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting.

The 10th-ranked Badgers also held Illinois to a season-low 32.7 percent shooting to snap 12th-ranked Illinois' 12-game winning streak.

Illinois' last loss came at Wisconsin on Jan. 24.

"We couldn't get shots, couldn't get a run, couldn't get momentum," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We just could never get over the hump."

Harris had a lot to do with that. He scored Wisconsin's first 11 points of the second half and also had three steals.

The junior punctuated Sunday's win with an explosive alley-oop dunk as the Wisconsin faithful chanted "One more year! One more year!"

Both teams were shoo-ins for the NCAA tournament and were more interested in a higher seed than the automatic bid that goes to the tournament winner.

It turns out the Illini had nothing to worry about. They finished with the best seed of any Big Ten team. Michigan State was the other conference team to make the field. The Spartans are a No. 7 seed.

Illinois is headed to its fifth straight NCAA tournament. Last year, the Illini lost to Notre Dame in the second round of the West Regional.

"I feel good about it," Dee Brown said of their fifth seed in Columbus, Ohio. "We're in the tournament. As long as you're in the tournament you have to be happy because a lot of people didn't get in."

Brown was Illinois' only effective offensive player. He scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. His teammates were 10-for-37 from the field (27 percent).

The Illini appeared lethargic, too often settling for jump shots that fell short. They were also outrebounded 34-27 and outscored 12-2 on fast-break points.

"We were lacking some emotion today," Weber said. "We were moping around feeling sorry for ourselves."

The Badgers set the tone in the first seven minutes of the game, shooting over 50 percent from the field and outrebounding Illinois 9-1. Clayton Hanson's hook shot gave Wisconsin a 16-6 lead.

Illinois shot 29 percent in the first half. Brown kept Illinois in the game with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. His teammates managed just 12 points on 3-of-18 shooting.

But Weber has reason to be optimistic.

"The last time we lost to Wisconsin, we won 12 in a row," he said. "Let's see what happens now."

The Badgers will be making their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and seventh in eight years. They lost to top-seeded Kentucky in last year's Midwest Regional semifinal 63-57.

Wisconsin, which reached the Final Four in 2000, have won seven straight games with a balanced offense and smothering defense.

Mike Wilkinson added 11 points and five rebounds for Wisconsin, which led by as many as 21 points in the second half. Now Ryan can't wait to get back on the floor.

"Let's lace 'em up. Let's play," Ryan said. "Sixty-five teams are happy to have the chance to play in the NCAA tournament and we are one of them. I'm excited about it."

Story courtesy of U of I SID

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