Illinois at the top of its game

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Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

On Monday afternoon, the Illini were named the No. 1 team by both The Associated Press and Coaches Polls. They celebrated a 78-59 win over Chicago State on Monday night in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall crowd.

Illinois captured the No. 1 ranking for only the third time in school history. The last time the Illini were No. 1 was the week of Jan. 23, 1989.

“There was no celebration,” said guard Luther Head. “We didn’t jump for joy or anything. We just took it like ‘OK, we’re No. 1, let’s stay there.’ We didn’t throw balloons in the air or anything like that.”

“I congratulated them, told them they should be proud and that they earned it,” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. “Obviously to jump like we did we must have impressed somebody. We feel we are a good team; it’s great for our program.”

Head continued to lead the Illini, scoring 17 points. The senior is the team’s top scorer, averaging 15.9 points a game.

Chicago State took the Illini out of their game in the beginning; the Cougars spread out the game and forced the Illini to get out of their upbeat-style of play.

“I don’t know if it was hard to get up for, it’s just the way the game went,” said forward Roger Powell Jr. “It was slow and you hold the ball for like 15 seconds, then you start the offense. Sometimes you kind of fell asleep on the court for a little bit, but I think that’s what made it look like we didn’t get up for it, because it was a real slow.”

Chicago State’s head coach Kevin Jones said his team’s game plan was to take the Illini out of their game, but admitted that it was easier said than done.

“That was our game plan: to spread the floor,” Jones said. “You can’t run up and down against Illinois; they are too quick in every position. So we knew coming into the game that we had to spread the floor and try to take advantage by running the clock out and getting a good shot. That was our game plan, but when you are not making those shots and they’re making those three’s, you get further and further behind.”

The Illini continued their unselfish play, dishing out 22 assists. They have recorded assists on nearly 70 percent of their field goals. Junior Dee Brown set a season high for assists with nine. Two came on back-to-back passes to center James Augustine, who dunked the first pass and made a layup on the second.

“That was luck,” Brown said of the assists. “James just rolled to the basket and I just fed him. The game needed a little more excitement. James made big plays. I saw him and I just gave him the basketball.”

Brown was the team’s second-highest scorer, going 5-of-8 for 15 points. Deron Williams and Powell Jr. both added nine points.

Brown said that the team could not be satisfied and must continue to improve.

“We just have to do the little things, especially on the road,” Brown said. “We just have to come together like a family. We just have to keep improving. Coach said before the game if we are satisfied we aren’t going to improve. So we’re not satisfied; we are still going to improve.”

Although the Illini are on top right now, no Illinois team has been able to keep the ranking more than a week. But Powell Jr. said this team was different.

“Like I always talk about, the two H’s – staying hungry and staying humble,” Powell Jr. said. “And that’s something that we really strive on and I think if we do that, we are going to be fine. We have some tough games coming up with some tough opponents, so I think we are really ready to go and get after them. It’s going to be fun.”