A Whole Lotta' Braggin' Goin' On

They say you can throw the record books out when Illinois and Missouri meet up in the annual Busch Braggin' Rights game at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Invariably, regardless of records, rankings, or expectations, these games end up being tooth and nail affairs, with the outcome rarely decided before the last five minutes of the game.

Better pull it out of the trash-the record book will need a little sprucing up after this one.

The Fighting Illini dominated the Tigers from start to finish on their way to an 82-50 drubbing. The margin of victory was the largest ever in the series, which was celebrating it's 25th anniversary tonight. The Tigers apparently never got their invitation to the party, doomed by stone-cold shooting and defense that struggled to keep up with the Illini's motion offense.

The Illini continued their trend of suffocating teams early with their defense, holding Missouri to 32% shooting in the first half, and outscoring the Tigers 17-7 over a six minute period in the middle of the half to take a double digit lead that they never relinquished. The Illini's run was keyed by 2 3-point baskets by Dee Brown and a 3 by Rich McBride. The Illini led 39-21 at the half, but halftime leads are never safe in this series.

"We knew they weren't a great first half team. We saw them come back against several teams when we watched them on films, and also, the last two years.We had a 19-20 point lead two years ago, last year 15 at half, both of them came down to gut-check games" commented Illini head coach Bruce Weber, who raised his record in the Christmas Classic to 3-0.

The second half was a carbon copy of the first. Missouri scored the first four points of the half, and Illinois answered with a 15-4 run to stretch their lead out to 25 points, and the rout was on. The Illini continued to swarm on defense, holding Mizzou to 38% shooting, and their perimeter defense contributed to an 0-8 effort by the Tigers from the three point line. The Illini also logged 11 steals for the game.

"I think we were very consistent this game. We said going into halftime, this was our most important second half of the season." said Brian Randle. "I think it was the biggest thing thus far to really put a team away. People made a concerted effort, and we know we have to continue to get better, regardless of what our record is."

Dee Brown led the Illini with 17 points, and added 7 assists to go with no turnovers. "Dee has settled in to being a solid point guard, or a very good point guard for us. He's not doing some of the things like he maybe did early, trying to figure out who to trust with the ball, who not to" said Coach Weber. James Augustine added 12 points and 8 rebounds, Marcus Arnold stepped back up with a 13 point, 5 rebound effort, and Brian Randle absolutely stuffed his stat sheet, scoring 13 point, grabbing 6 rebounds, dealing 2 assists and grabbing a steal, while playing lockdown defense on Missouri's leading scorer, Thomas Gardner, who finished the game with 6 points on 2-12 shooting, and committing 5 turnovers.

"Brian Randle and Rich McBride did a great job on Gardner and got him…he just never got into his rhythm. Even when he had a couple of open looks, when you don't let a guy get going, get into a rhythm early, now they're hesitating, they're not stepping into the shot like they normally do" said Coach Weber.

Missouri got 11 points from Jimmy McKinney, 9 from Jason Horton, and 6 from Gardner, Marshall Brown, and Kevin Young. The Tigers committed 21 turnovers, and shot only 35% for the game. The Illini offense showed signs of gelling, yielding 19 assists on 29 made baskets and shooting percentage of 48% for the game, while yielding only 12 turnovers.

The decidedly pro-Illini crowd was into the game early and often, and after the two Brown three-pointers and a breakaway dunk by James Augustine, the Missouri fans had little to cheer about. There were a lot of orange shirts sprinkled among the black garb in the Missouri section.

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