Illini Sweet 16 Bound!

NDIANAPOLIS - Luther Head's pass was perfect. James Augustine caught it in full stride and streaked in for a dunk. That was just the beginning of a big day for the Illinois big men. Augustine scored a career-high 23 points, leading the top-seeded Illini to a 71-59 win over ninth-seeded Nevada on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Nick Fazekas and Kevinn Pinkney couldn't stop Augustine down low. He scored 17 points in the first half, including 11 of the last 13 to give the Illini (34-1) a 34-27 lead at the break. The Illini broke the game open at the start of the second half, sparked by Augustine's block and steal on consecutive Nevada possessions.

"Everything was bouncing my way," Augustine said. "I know Fazekas is a big prospect and Pinkney is a key to their game, so I wanted to prove something." Guards Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head combined for 31 points, but most came late in the game as the big guys took center stage. Williams scored five points on free throws down the stretch.

Augustine also grabbed 10 rebounds and finished with four blocks and two steals.

"Our game plan was to have a lot of attention towards the guards and the big man ended up hurting us tonight," Fazekas said. "We didn't expect him to come out and do that." The Illini reached the regional semifinals for second straight season and the fourth time in the last five. They will play No. 12 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an 83-75 winner over Boston College, on Thursday in the Chicago Regional at Rosemont, Ill.

As they did in their first-round win over Fairleigh Dickinson, the Illini recovered from a sometimes sloppy first half in which they made 10 turnovers. Fazekas scored the first basket after the break to bring the Wolf Pack (25-7) to within 34-29, but they wouldn't get that close again.

Williams hit a layup and Augustine and Roger Powell Jr. scored inside baskets to start a 23-8 run that gave the Illini a 57-37 lead with 10:32 to go. Williams had a length-of-the-court drive and Head drained a long 3-pointer during the run. "Deron just took over the game," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "He got in the paint, and when they helped he dished off. We had a good mixture in our offense, the best rhythm in our offense in a long time."

Williams finished with 15 points, five on free throws down the stretch, and 10 assists. Head had 14 and Brown, who left the floor in the first half because of a cramp, scored only two points but had four rebounds and five assists.

The Illini also got 12 inside points from Jack Ingram and five more from Powell as they shot 53 percent. It was the first time they made more than half their shots since a win over Purdue on Feb. 23.

Weber said his team got a lift from the thousands of orange-clad fans in the RCA Dome crowd of 40,331, a sub-regional site record.

"The crowd was so great, it was almost like playing in Assembly Hall," he said. "Once we got the run, everything started clicking."

Augustine, Ingram and Powell used a trapping defense to shut down Fazekas' lane to the basket. Fazekas, the Wolf Pack's top scorer this season, wound up 5-of-20 from the floor and scored 11 points.

Pinkney led the Wolf Pack with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Mo Charlo added 12. "I really felt like this was a game we were going to win," said Nevada coach Mark Fox, who was tagged with a technical foul in the first half. "We really felt like we could defend and take away the 3-point line and win the rebounding war." He was right. The Illini were only 2-of-12 from 3-point range and both teams had 32 rebounds.

But Fox said he hadn't counted on Augustine.

"They went in and he made the plays and that's why he's moving on," Fox said. The victory also gives Illinois the most wins by a Big Ten team, breaking the mark it shared for two days with Michigan State, which went 33-5 in 1999.

Story courtesy of the U of I official press release.

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