Saturday, March 24, 2001

Illinois 80, Kansas 64

Williams leads Illini with 30

AP Sports Writer

        SAN ANTONIO — Bodies were banging and fouls were piling up. At practically every whistle, Illinois coach Bill Self was sending in another player or two to replenish the troops.

        It took 12 guys, but it worked. The Fighting Illini's depth and a career-best 30 points from Frank Williams carried the Midwest Region's top-seeded team to an 80-64 victory over Kansas on Friday night.

        “We felt like it had to be an ugly game,” said Self, who became the first coach to take different teams to the final eight in consecutive years. He guided Tulsa to the Midwest final last year, then took over the Illini in June after Lon Kruger went to the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

        “We knew if it got physical, we could win it with our bench.”

        Illinois (27-7) will play Arizona, the No. 2 seed, Sunday in the Midwest Regional final. It'll be their third meeting of the season, with each team having won once. The Wildcats advanced by beating Mississippi 66-56 Friday night.

        Kansas (26-7) ended its longest tournament run since '97. After trailing by 14 early in the second half, the fourth-seeded Jayhawks got within five twice then were outscored 10-0 during the final 1:24 to make the game look more lopsided than it really was. Still, the 16-point loss is the worst tournament defeat for Kansas coach Roy Williams in 37 games over 12 seasons.

        “We weren't able to get offensive rebounds, which has been a big part of our offense all year,” said Williams, whose season began with his decision to stay in Lawrence instead of going to coach his alma mater, North Carolina.

        “Their physical size and rebounding ability took us out of our game plan. Illinois made us play less than a perfect game, to say the least.”

        Illinois, which last weekend beat Northwestern State by 42 and Charlotte by 18, knew it had the bulky frontcourt players and speedy guards to match up with Kansas. The Illini's extra weapon was a deep bench.

        The strengths came together perfectly as Illinois' smothering defense and quick hands forced the Jayhawks into nine turnovers in the game's first seven minutes. The Illini used that for an 11-0 run that put them ahead for good.

        The Jayhawks scratched to within 23-21 about five minutes before halftime, but Williams answered with two 3-pointers and the Illini pulled out to a 41-29 lead at the break.

        Kansas kept its deficit in single digits most of the second half, but with Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden in foul trouble, the Jayhawks lacked the firepower to mount a serious run.

        Although Illinois wasn't shooting much better, the Illini's rotating door of reserves kept pumping life into their game. Their bench outscored Kansas' 28-0, with Luke Johnson scoring 15 of the points.

        The extra bodies gave the Illini more fouls to use. With Kansas making only 18 of 35 free throws, there was no reason not to whack any Jayhawk with an open shot — or even the possibility of one.

        “I think unquestionably our bench was the difference in the game,” said starting center Marcus Griffin, who fouled out with just two points. “We had several guys in foul trouble all night long. If our bench didn't play like it did, I think we'd be on our way home right now.”

        Illinois is enjoying its best run in the tournament since reaching the Final Four in 1989, the only other time the school was seeded first. The Illini and Michigan State give the Big Ten two teams among the final eight.

        Williams, the Big Ten player of the year, hit 11 of 24 shots, including 3-of-7 on 3-pointers, and all five free throws he tried. His previous high was 27 — against next-round opponent Arizona.

        “It all came down to my teammates giving me the confidence to go out and gamble on offense,” Williams said.

        The Illini needed his big night to offset Cory Bradford going 1-of-13, including 1-of-9 on 3-pointers. Sergio McLain had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

        Nick Collison led Kansas with 23 points, but he hurt the Jayhawks down the stretch by missing five straight free throws. He was 6-of-14 at the line.

        Gooden, who averaged 18.5 points in the first two rounds, had 13 points and nine rebounds. Hinrich, his game thrown off by chasing Williams, fouled out with 13 points and six rebounds.

        “They were pretty tough out there,” said guard Jeff Boschee, who had three points on 1-of-7 shooting, all 3-point attempts. “We were pretty tired out there, but you have to be mentally tough. It's as good of a man defense as we've played.”

        The worn-out Jayhawks also were outrebounded 45-33 after averaging 27 more boards than their opponents last weekend.

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