Illini will wait to celebrate

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Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

If the No. 1 Illini pull out a win over Northwestern tonight, don’t expect balloons and confetti to fall from Assembly Hall’s ceiling.

While a win would clinch a share of the Big Ten title, the Illini are not ready to celebrate just yet.

They want more.

“There’s no celebration,” said head coach Bruce Weber. “We want to win it outright and that means we have to win two. That’s not the goal I set for them. We want to win two and win the outright title. That’s our goal.”

But if Michigan State falls to Wisconsin on Thursday, then a win over Northwestern would give the Illini the outright title.

Either way, the Illini will wait.

“Then we will celebrate no matter what,” Weber said. “But first we have to get past Northwestern.”

Northwestern is coming into tonight’s game looking for revenge from the early Big Ten loss against the Illini on their home court. The Illini cruised to a 78-66 win en route to recording the best start in Illinois history.

The Wildcats (13-12, 5-7) hit a little bit of a bump early in the season when they lost six of seven games. The team has since rebounded, winning four of its last five games.

“They’re not going to go away,” Weber said. “It’s a tough team to defend. I think our kids understand how hard it is going to be. Up there … we had to grind it out. I think they appreciate how hard they make you accountable, how hard you have to play on both ends of the court.

“When you leave the game, you’re tired.”

Junior forward Vedran Vukusic is leading the ‘Cats this season, as the Croatia native averages 16.8 points a game in 36 minutes a game. In the teams’ previous meeting, Vukusic was the leading scorer for Northwestern, finishing with 20 points.

Series standing

Going into tonight’s match up, Illinois holds a 118-34 all-time advantage over the Wildcats, including a 58-13 record in games played in Champaign. The Illini have won 37 of the last 41 meetings, including 10 of the last 11 games. The last Wildcat victory at Assembly Hall was on Jan. 9, 1999.

In his fifth year at Northwestern, head coach Bill Carmody is 1-7 against the Illini. The Wildcats are 0-13 against ranked opponents.

Ready for Rich

After sitting out Saturday’s game at Iowa with tonsillitis, Rich McBride should be ready to play tonight.

“He probably could have played a minute or two on Saturday,” Weber said. “But he feels better.”

McBride, who is usually the first guard off the bench, started practicing again on Monday. He is averaging 3.4 points a game and 1.6 rebounds for the Illini so far this season.