It's tough enough stopping one of Illinois' standout guards when he's having a good night. Make it two, and that's just not a fair fight. Williams and Brown gave upstart Wisconsin-Milwaukee all that it could handle and then some Thursday night, combining for 42 points, 10 assists and some nasty defense to lead Illinois to a 77-63 victory and a spot in the Chicago Regional finals.
Williams had 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and eight assists. Brown scored 15 of his 21 from 3-point range, and had two assists and two steals. Roger Powell Jr. and Luther Head added 12 each, and James Augustine finished with 11.
The top-seeded Illini (35-1) will play the winner of the Oklahoma State-Arizona game Saturday for a chance to go to their first Final Four since 1989.
Joah Tucker led UWM (26-6) with a career-high 32 points, but he was essentially a one-man offense. UWM shot 39 percent, and leading scorer Ed McCants was 4-of-17 overall for 13 points. Illinois forced the Panthers into 12 turnovers while committing only nine.
The victory was some payback for Illinois fans, who still harbor a grudge against UWM coach Bruce Pearl for the role he played in a recruiting scandal some 15 years ago. Pearl gave the NCAA a tape of a secretly recorded phone call in 1989, touching off a 16-month investigation. Illinois was cleared of the most serious violations, but had to skip the 1991 postseason.
Pearl said earlier this week he expected a hostile reception, and he got it. The Illinois fans booed him loudly and long when he was introduced. But that was nothing compared to the treatment Williams and Brown gave the 12th-seeded Panthers.
UWM had stunned Alabama and Boston College with a suffocating, fullcourt press, and it gave the Illini some fits, too. The Panthers are tenacious to the point of annoyance, hanging so close to the opponents they're practically inside their jerseys. And just when the Illini thought they'd shed one, there was another, ready to stick a hand, an arm, anything in their face.
But Brown and Williams were just too savvy for the Panthers to contain for long. With UWM trailing 29-26 with 3 minutes left in the first half, Williams worked the shot clock, dribbling around the top of the key, his eyes scanning the entire floor.
Finally, with only 4 seconds left on the clock, he drove forward and dished to a wide-open Powell under the basket. Powell laid it up for an easy basket. Illinois forced turnovers on the next two possessions, and Brown hit a 3 and Powell made a layup to give the Illini a 36-26 lead with 2:24 to play.
Williams extended the lead in the second half, scoring on three straight possessions. He was hacked from behind as he went up for a layup, and made one free throw. He then scored on a fast-break layup - fed by Brown after a steal - and finished the run with a 3 to give Illinois a 51-37 lead with 16:29 to play.
Tucker converted a three-point play, but Williams was right there again, hitting a 3 from the top of the key to push the lead back to double digits.
Illinois led by as much as 17 before Wisconsin-Milwaukee made an 8-0 run to get back within double digits with about 3 minutes to play. But Powell scored on a layup, and UWM never got close again.
Story provided by the U of I press release.