Illinois Holds Off Iowa

The Illini remained perfect on the season with a 75-65 win in Carver Hawkeye Arena on Saturday afternoon. Dee Brown and Deron Williams led the Illini with 18 points, while James Augustine added 13 points and 8 rebounds as the Illini extended their perfect record to 27-0, 13-0 in Big Ten conference play.

Heading into this season, if you were going to tell me that the Fighting Illini would be undefeated after 27 games, and the two coaches that came up with the best game plans to beat Illinois would be Tommy Amaker and Steve Alford, I would have told you that you were absolutely nuts. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected Illinois to be undefeated through 27 games and pushing for the first perfect Big Ten conference season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. I also never would have imagined that Steve Alford and Tommy Amaker, two coaches who are generally maligned by fans for inadequate bench coaching ability would have been able to draw up the blue print on "how to beat Illinois."

Saturday afternoon in Iowa City is a game that before the conference season started; I predicted would be a loss. Things changed before the game though. Iowa's Pierre Pierce was kicked off the team, and the Hawkeyes have struggled in Big Ten play coming into the game with a 4-7 record in Big Ten play and their NCAA Tournament chances sliding right down the drain. An amazing performance from the Hawkeyes would be needed to upset the Illini even in Iowa City, but they knew it was possible as they extended the Illinois into over time in Champaign earlier this conference season.

The Illini jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead before the Hawkeyes came back and jumped out to an 11-7 lead. The Illini and Hawkeyes would go back and forth with the lead in the first half until the final minutes. After the game was tied at 20 with 5:28 left in the first half, the Illini went on a 16-8 run to take a 36-28 lead into the intermission. The end of the first half saw a curious decision by Iowa's Jeff Horner. Instead of waiting to take the final shot of the half, Horner attempted and missed a three that lead to an Illini basket and allowed the Illini to extend the half time lead to eight instead of being six, or possibly even three.

In the second half, Illinois withstood three Iowa rallies. The Hawkeyes were able to get within three of the Illini at 41-38 with 15:38 left in the game, but the Illini responded quickly. Over the next four minutes, the Illini extended their lead to seven. The next team to respond was Iowa. The Hawkeyes once again took momentum in their home stadium by cutting the Illini lead to two at 53-51 with 9:33 left in the game. The game went back and forth for the next five minutes when the Illini started to pull away from the Hawkeyes. The Illini outscored the Hawkeyes 14-7 over the final four minutes including a three pointer from the corner from much-maligned center Nick Smith that sealed the game for the Fighting Illini.

Before I look at the numbers of the Illini in this game, let's look at what the Illini did in Champaign against these Hawkeyes. (Yes, I know in the game in Champaign, Iowa was playing with Pierre Pierce, but I am going with something here, so let it roll).

Offensive Efficiency: 88.33
Defensive Efficiency: 82.28
Illinois' Points per Shot Attempt (Adjusted): 0.91
Iowa's Points per Shot Attempt (Adjusted): 1.03
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 36.36%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 81.82%
Percent of Baskets Assisted: 54.55%

Just looking at what Iowa did to the Illini in January, it is pretty obvious to see how they were in the game. The Hawkeye's defense stymied the Illini offense, but they were not able to score themselves and eventually lost the game. So how much different will the story be from this afternoon's contest in Iowa City? Let's let the numbers tell the story …

Offensive Efficiency: 115.17
Defensive Efficiency: 102.46
Illinois' Points per Shot Attempt (Adjusted): 1.17
Iowa's Points per Shot Attempt (Adjusted): 1.19
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 26.7%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 50.0%
Percent of Baskets Assisted: 46.2%

Just looking at the difference between the two games, you see two things: (1) the offense was much better for both teams and (2) the Illini could not grab a basketball off of a missed shot.

The Illini only rebounded 50% of all missed Iowa shots, allowing the Hawkeyes 12 chances to take another shot at the basket. This great offensive rebounding for the Hawkeyes allowed them to overcome their 21 turnovers. One of the reasons Iowa was able to get so many offensive rebounds was Illinois' big men were constantly going for the blocked shot, and rarely were they getting it. I often saw James Augustine come across from the weak side to try and block a shot. After he could not block the shot, the Iowa player on the back side would rebound the ball and put it back in the basket with an easy bunny.

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