- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2005

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Illinois guard Dee Brown could see it in his teammates’ eyes. Trailing by 15 points with four minutes remaining, the Fighting Illini broke the huddle with a thunderclap.

“Everyone was fired up and saying we could do it,” Brown said. “I never panicked. I felt we had a chance.

“That was a miracle. Everyone made plays at the right time.”

Top-ranked Illinois advanced to its first Final Four in 16 years with a thrilling 90-89 overtime victory over Arizona in the Chicago Regional final last night before 16,957 at Allstate Arena. Illinois needed a last-minute 3-pointer to force regulation and a defensive stop at the buzzer in overtime to score its largest comeback of the season.

“It’s not just the greatest game I have ever played in,” Illinois forward Jack Ingram said, “but the greatest game I have ever watched.”

Said guard Deron Williams: “It took all we had to get this win.”

Illinois (36-1) meets Louisville (33-4) in the national semifinals Saturday in St. Louis.

The final minutes of regulation and overtime were such a whirlwind that both coaches suffered memory lapses when recalling plays.

Arizona (30-7) appeared the sure victor after ripping off a 13-2 run to extend its lead to 75-60 late in the second half. Illinois hadn’t trailed by more than nine this season, but the Illini scored eight unanswered points in 28 seconds before a double timeout to rest four players suffering leg cramps. Coach Bruce Weber told players to “look into my eyes and focus because we can do this.”

Illinois soon scored off two steals along with two 3-pointers in the final minute for an 80-80 tie to force overtime.

“It just seemed like we were dying and then we got a couple steals and then it was pretty much a blur,” Weber said.

Williams followed his game-tying 3-pointer by opening overtime with another 3-pointer. Arizona rebounded for an 84-83 lead before Illinois forward Roger Powell dunked and Williams made Illinois’ 16th 3-pointer. Brown converted a steal for a 90-84 lead with 1:54 left, and Illinois relied on defense the rest of the way to outlast Arizona.

“I’m sure there are a number of things that will cause a lot of sleepless nights,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

Like when Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur couldn’t get off a clean shot at the end of overtime even after waiting 30 seconds to take it. Salim Stoudamire, the Wildcats’ leading scorer for the season who beat Oklahoma State on Thursday with a late jump shot, missed a chance at regulation’s end to repeat his heroics. The Wildcats also permitted 25 points off turnovers.

“I don’t know how many times we waited for a pass,” Olson said. “If you’re being pressed and wait for the ball, you’re not going to get the ball.”

Williams led Illinois with 22 points, while guard Luther Head added 20 and Powell 16.

The loss overshadowed a standout effort by Arizona center Channing Frye, who led the Wildcats with 24 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. Guard Hassan Adams added 21 points.

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