ROSEMONT, Ill. - Wisconsin-Milwaukee came into last night's regional matchup against No. 1-ranked Illinois with a reputation as being one of the better pressuring, attacking defensive teams left in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 12 seed Panthers, in fact, succeeded in taking Illinois out of its game early, ironically without its feared press.
It didn't matter as the top-seeded Illini eventually romped, 77-63.
Illinois began the game with all the look of a team expecting to be pressed. The normally pass-intensive team made six of its first eight shots, but took all but two of those shots within the first 10 seconds on the shot clock. Two were quick three-pointers by Luther Head and Dee Brown.
Illinois (35-1) also looked inside to attack quickly before the Milwaukee defense had a chance to set up in the halfcourt. The Illini pushed the ball up the court hard and went to James Augustine and Head down low for layups.
"They make you go fast, they pressure you, and all of a sudden you move it one, two times and think you have to shoot it," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "You're going at a chaotic pace. Once we settled down, we moved the ball better and shot better. Obviously, that helped."
Brown and Deron Williams combined for 42 points. Williams scored 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and also had eight assists. Brown scored 15 of his 21 from three-point range, was 7-for-12, and had two assists and two steals. Anytime the Illini needed a basket, a pass or a turnover, one - or both - of them was there.
Joah Tucker did his part, scoring a career-high 32 points for Milwaukee.
The Illini will play Arizona tomorrow for a chance to go to their first Final Four since 1989.
Illinois' scouting of Milwaukee (26-6) revealed the Panthers do not simply press from whistle to whistle but instead pick their spots. And Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl saw no percentage in attempting to press three of the nation's best guards when they were still fresh.
The game was so fast, so up-tempo early, that Pearl said he did not need to make it any faster. The pace was exactly what he and the Panthers wanted.
"For the first 10 minutes it was crazy. It was great," Pearl said. "When the tempo started to slow a little, I tried to press it back up because we wanted the tempo up. We were hanging in there when it was going up."
Illinois turned the ball over six times in the first half and only three in the second. For all of its defensive intensity, Milwaukee was able to get only one steal after halftime.
"We're pretty good handling the pressure with three point guards," Illinois' Williams said.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE - Tucker 12-18 6-8 32, Tigert 1-6 0-0 2, Hill 0-3 2-3 2, McCants 4-17 1-2 13, B.Davis 3-9 2-2 9, Pancratz 0-0 0-0 0, McCoy 1-3 1-2 3, Wright 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 22-57 12-18 63.
ILLINOIS - Augustine 3-3 5-6 11, Powell Jr. 5-11 2-2 12, Head 5-15 0-1 12, Williams 8-12 3-4 21, Brown 7-12 2-2 21, McBride 0-1 0-0 0, Carter 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Ingram 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 12-15 77.
Halftime-Illinois, 39-32. 3-point goals-Wis.-Milwaukee 7-29 (McCants 4-14, Tucker 2-3, B.Davis 1-5, McCoy 0-1, Hill 0-3, Tigert 0-3), Illinois 9-20 (Brown 5-8, Head 2-5, Williams 2-5, McBride 0-1, Powell Jr. 0-1). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Wis.-Milwaukee 35 (Tigert 7), Illinois 33 (Augustine 10). Assists-Wis.-Milwaukee 12 (Hill 4), Illinois 20 (Williams 8). Total fouls-Wis.-Milwaukee 12, Illinois 20.