Illini Drop Heartbreaker To Utes In Las Vegas

The Fighting Illini basketball team suffered a second half collapse, losing to Utah on a last second shot by Shawn Glover 60-58 at the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament Friday night. Illinois was up by 16 at the half, but its offense stagnated and its defense weakened, allowing the Utes to get back in the game.

Illinois and Utah had opposite games. The Illini had everything going its way first half, and the Utes the second. Coach Bruce Weber summarized the game.

"We played with great energy and had a great crowd the first half, but we should have been up by 20 or more. In the second half, they just put their heads down and took it at us. We didn't have the answers. We did a good job on (Carlon) Brown first half, but he got to the basket second half.

"We couldn't score. Three of our starters go for 2,3, and 5. We didn't go to Mike Tisdale enough. He was wide open. They just used a packed in zone. When we penetrated and kicked it back, he was 8-10. That's pretty good shooting."

Illinois swarmed over the Utes early in the first half, forcing numerous errant shots. Utah hit only 27% against the best Illini defense so far this season. With Weber substituting freely, the Illini used transition to go on a 20-4 run on the way to a 16 point halftime lead.

Dominique Keller provided a spark off the bench, getting two fast break dunks and a steal to ignite the Illini rally. Alex Legion also made a couple good plays as freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul were ineffective. Richardson went out early with two fouls, while Paul forced some shots without success. They played like freshmen.

The reverse occurred second half. The Utes made 7 of their first 8 shots, all within five feet of the basket. And guard Luka Drca got hot. His steal and layup followed by two threes cut the Illini lead to 48-44. The Utes kept chipping away until they knotted the score on a Brown steal and layin plus one free throw to make it 50-50.

The two teams traded buckets until it was 58-58. After Tisdale blocked a Brown shot, the Illini had the ball with a chance to win. Demetri McCamey missed a jumper with 5.6 seconds to play. The Utes fired the ball downcourt to Glover who took one dribble and then threw in the game winner at the buzzer. Weber decided not to call timeout on the last possession.

"At the end, do you take a timeout or not? We'd called a play in the huddle before. Demetri went too early. Next time we'll call time out or we'll practice it a little bit. And then we didn't have a safety at the end because Demetri drives.

"Again, he could have gone right back to Tisdale. But he didn't. He made some plays that kept us in the game, so it's not his fault. I thought our bench was pretty good the first half, but didn't make plays second half."

The Illini received contributions from many players first half, but McCamey and Tisdale were forced to carry the load thereafter.

"We couldn't stop them, so we couldn't get transition," Weber reminded. "We had to play half court basketball, and we probably aren't very good at that right now. We had some open looks to keep the 10-12 point lead, and we didn't make them. We gave them a chance to find a way to win, and they did."

McCamey ended with 19 points, and Tisdale added 18. No other Illini scored more than Dominique Keller's 6. Drca topped the Utes with 16 points while JC transfer Jay Watkins added 12. Glover's game winner gave him five points on the night.

The Illini must now face Bradley, loser of their game with Oklahoma State, for third place in the tournament. As Weber reminds, the Peoria school sees this game as a grudge match.

"It's gonna be a tough game tomorrow because you know they're gonna have a chip on their shoulders. We'll see what we're about. We're gonna have to grow up and get better."

The Big 10 faired poorly Saturday as ranked Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State squads all lost as well. Hopefully, Saturday will be a better day.

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