Illini advance to championship game

Brown, Augustine lead way; Illinois will take on Wisconsin Sunday

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Illinois will have a chance to sweep the Big Ten Championships Sunday after defeating Michigan 74-60 in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse.


Sophomore guard Dee Brown paced the top-seeded Illini with 21 points and sophomore center James Augustine added 15. Luther Head was also in double figures, following his career-high 29-point performance in Friday's quarterfinal win over Indiana with 12 points against the Wolverines. Sophomore guard Deron Williams added seven points and seven assists.


No. 5 seed Michigan had four players in double figures, including sophomore guard Daniel Horton with 16 and senior wing Bernard Robinson Jr. with 15. Freshman center Courtney Sims led all players with 12 rebounds and four blocks and also had 10 points. Freshman guard Dion Harris contributed 11.


Luther Head goes up for a dunk
(Matthew Kutz/Badger Nation)

The Illini (24-5) will next face Wisconsin (23-6), 68-66 winners over Michigan State, in the Big Ten championship game Sunday at 2:30 p.m. CST. With the loss, Michigan (18-11) is now planted firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble and will have to wait until the bids are announced Sunday (5 p.m.) to discover its postseason fate. Normally, a fifth place finish in the Big Ten and a trip to the conference tournament semifinals would ensure a spot at the Big Dance, but the Wolverines must overcome an RPI ranking that has hovered in the 50s for the past month and a perception that the Big Ten is weaker than usual this season.


"When you look around at what conferences are so-called, ‘down', that's just the lingo and the party line," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said, addressing the widespread belief that only the Big Ten's top three teams will receive NCAA berths. "I think we're going to have a great chance of being in the postseason, so we're going to be very proud of that no matter what tournament we're selected to play in."


Illinois and Michigan were each missing key cogs Saturday. Illini junior forward Roger Powell suffered a concussion Friday when chasing a loose ball and, according to Illinois coach Bruce Weber, was held out as a precautionary measure. He is doubtful for Sunday's game. Junior center Nick Smith replaced Powell in the starting lineup and junior center Jack Ingram played 14 minutes to help make up for Powell's absence, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds.


James Augustine
(Matthew Kutz/Badger Nation)

"We knew with Roger being out there was a big hole and we made sure we were prepared inside," Ingram said.


Wolverine sophomore wing Lester Abram was out with a shoulder injury suffered in Friday's win over Iowa.


"He was having trouble lifting his arm above his shoulder," Amaker said.


For the second consecutive Sunday, Illinois will be playing for a conference championship. The Illini topped Ohio State 64-63 a week ago to claim their first outright title in 52 years. Now, they can follow that up with a second consecutive conference tournament crown with a win Sunday.


"The big thing for us was the Big Ten Championship," Weber said. "The tournament is just gravy. Even though we won the conference, Wisconsin is still ranked higher in the polls and we have used that as motivation. It's just like going to a playground. We won and we don't want to lose our ground. We are going to hold it."


"We are the defending champs and we feel like this is our tournament and we deserve to be here," Williams said. "It really doesn't matter who we are playing because we know we are going to win."

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