No Laughing Matter for Illini Big Lead vs. Wisconsin Vanishes, but Turner Saves Day in Big Ten Tournament
Logan, Bob, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Bob Logan Daily Herald Sports Writer
An easy game for Illinois? Forget it.
Not even in their own Assembly Hall. Seldom during the preconference slate, almost never against Big Ten foes.
Add postseason play, the Big Ten Tournament and the United Center to the lengthy list. There's no reason to believe it will be any different in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The schizophrenic Illini testified to that once more with Friday night's struggling 66-61 decision over Wisconsin in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten meet. In the first half, it was apparent they hadn't played since that stormy Knight at Indiana on Feb. 24.
Fortunately for the Illini, the toothless Badgers (12-19 overall, 3-13 Big Ten) truthfully were terrible in those 20 minutes. They scored just 10 points, recalling the 8-6 first-half fiasco Michigan State and Iowa staged 18 years ago, the lowest totals in modern Big Ten basketball history.
But after the intermission, bewildered United Center onlookers must have figured these U of I guys hadn't played since their grade-school tournament.
It took an explosive closing burst for the second-seeded Illini (22-8, 13-3) to avoid Friday's second tourney upset and move into the semifinals this afternoon. Wisconsin wiped out an 18-point gap, salvaging some offense from the deep freeze for a 36-17 spree in 13 minutes and 11 seconds of the final half.
That bewildering stretch spilled the conference co-champs out of their 28-10 catbird seat and into a 46-45 deficit with only 6:14 left. In their astonishing run, the No. 10 seed Badgers made 13 of 15 field-goal tries, turning the silent United Center into a shrieking Twilight Zone. It looked like a stunning aftermath of Friday afternoon's 76-73 ouster of top-seeded Michigan State by No. 8 seed Minnesota.
"We played some of our best basketball," said Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. "When we went ahead, the team huddled and I told them, 'The only baskets we'll
give up from now on will be great baskets.' "
Naturally, Illini guard Kevin Turner promptly broke loose for a driving layup and Jarrod Gee followed with a sensational reverse rebound bucket to trigger an 11-0 explosion in the next 3:35. …