The dream is still alive.
The dream of a national championship and an undefeated season.
It almost fell apart when Iowa visited Champaign on Jan. 20. The Hawkeyes pushed, prodded and punished the Illini and forced the game into overtime. But Illinois would not succumb and came up with a 73-68 victory.
The win set up an epic battle at Wisconsin on Jan. 25, another close game that the Illini won. The Badgers were licking their chops for a chance to hand Illinois its first loss of the season. Wisconsin owned the nation's longest home unbeaten streak at 38 games.
Head coach Bruce Weber was stepping up the intensity level as his team prepared for the Badgers. Weber is normally one of the most open and gregarious head coaches in the business and quite happy to cooperate fully with the media. However, he cut off access to his team after the postgame interviews following the win over Iowa. He did that to conserve his players' energy and help them concentrate on facing the Badgers.
In the win over Iowa, Illinois struggled with a rough shooting night. The Illini made just 22-of-67 shots, and forward Roger Powell connected on just 2-of-15 attempts. Even with the awful night, Powell is shooting 55 percent for the season.
But the poor shooting night did not have an impact on the effort. Illinois played tough defense and continued to hustle — and came away with the ugly win. Weber believes in this team and understands that there are going to be nights where the shooting goes on hiatus. As long as the effort remains intact, Illinois has a chance to make good on its dreams.
— Illinois was averaging 81.9 points per game entering this week's play, ranking second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally.
— Despite a poor shooting night against Iowa — the Illini made 22-of-67 shots — Illinois is connecting on 50.5 percent of its shots and is the best shooting team in the Big Ten.
— The Illini have won 16 straight Big Ten regular-season games. The team's all-time record is 17 consecutive conference wins.
— Illinois has won 20 games to start the season — the best season-opening win streak in school history.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Dee Brown, guard Luther Head, guard Deron Williams, forward Roger Powell, forward James Augustine.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't play good the whole game, so we took it upon ourselves not to let this one go." — Illinois guard Luther Head on the Jan. 20 overtime win against Iowa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Minnesota, Jan. 29
KEYS: The trip to Madison represented the toughest game on the schedule so far this season. The Badgers are smart and talented, but they are primarily a physical team that will try to take it to the Illini. Illinois has plenty of talent and heart and has been looking forward to meeting Wisconsin. Minnesota is one of the most improved teams in the nation, but the Gophers have little chance of staying with the Illini for 40 minutes.
ROSTER REPORT: Guard Luther Head rescued the Illini with his playmaking in the Jan. 20 win over Iowa. He connected on 8-of-18 shots from the field and scored 25 points. Head is averaging a team-high 16.8 ppg and shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
— Guard Deron Williams is averaging 12.9 points and a team-high 7.1 assists per game.
— Forward James Augustine is leading the team with 7.7 rebounds per game.
About Illinois: Still No. 1
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