CHICAGO - Illinois' journey to the Final Four may be a matter of style.
The guard-oriented Illini matched up with a speed team in Wisconsin-Milwaukee and shot the smaller Panthers out of the tournament Thursday night, 77-63. To win the Chicago Regional final tonight, Illinois must cope with Arizona, which outrebounded and outmuscled a physical Oklahoma State team, 79-78, to reach the Elite Eight.
The third-seeded Wildcats are big and physical, and they like it.
"The fact that people consider us bangers is definitely kind of nice," 6-foot-10 center Channing Frye said of himself, 6-10 forward Ivan Radenovic and 6-4 forward Hassan Adams. "But Illinois is very versatile and has seen every kind of defense, just as we have."
Top-ranked and top-seeded Illinois (35-1) had little problem with Nevada's 6-11 Nick Fazekas. But Frye and Radenovic could be a different story. Against Oklahoma State, they shot a combined 12-for-17 and accounted for 13 rebounds. Adams had 10 rebounds and made eight of 12 shots.
While the focus was on the shooting of guard Salim Stoudamire, whose off-balance jump shot with 2.8 seconds to play finally beat Oklahoma State, the heavy lifting was done down low.
A jumper by Frye preceded Stoudamire's heroics and typified the kind of big-game play Arizona (30-6) has gotten from its inside players.
Coach Lute Olson, in fact, wrote a letter of protest to Pacific-10 executives after Frye was not named at least co-conference player of the week earlier this season when he posted 26 and 30 points in back-to-back games. The latter came on 13-for-15 shooting at Washington, the eventual No. 1 seed in the Albuquerque Regional and a loser Thursday to Louisville.
"Channing did a great job [against Oklahoma State], and he'll even do a better job [today]," Radenovic said. "With his moves, he doesn't look like a banger; he's a more skilled guy. And I consider myself a skilled guy, too."
Frye had 15 points and 10 rebounds against Oklahoma State.
How the game is officiated may be a factor. Illinois escaped Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Thursday with four fouls each on starters Luther Head and Deron Williams and backup Jack Ingram.
Tight officiating underneath could negate some of Arizona's apparent strength advantage.
"We have adjusted very well," Frye said. "You take Utah State, UAB [Arizona's first- and second-round victories]; they were both very physical, and the refs let us play it out. I think we are used to that."
Arizona also has made other style adjustments.
Radenovic, a native of Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, came from the European style of play that involved more passing and less quick-release offense in the fashion Stoudamire plays. It took Radenovic virtually his entire freshman season to adjust to the style of his new teammates.
"In Europe, we have a 24-second shot clock," Radenovic said. "The players there will take 23 seconds before they shoot."
NOTE: Head expects to play tonight despite a sore right hamstring.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Chicago Regional final
No. 1 seed Illinois (35-1) vs. No. 3 seed Arizona (30-6)
Time, TV: 7:05 p.m., chs. 13, 9
How they got here: Illinois beat No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, 67-55, beat No. 9 seed Nevada, 71-59, beat No. 12 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 77-63. Arizona beat No. 14 seed Utah State, 66-53, beat No. 11 seed UAB, 85-63, beat No. 2 seed Oklahoma State, 79-78.
Tourney tidbit: Arizona Coach Lute Olson is looking for his sixth Final Four appearance, which would be tied for the fourth-most in NCAA history, behind only John Wooden, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.
The buzz: This has the look of a classic: Both are loaded with good athletes, good shooters, good defenders and good rebounders. llinois' backcourt might be the best in the nation, and in Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head, the Illini have a trio that excels in every facet of guard play. But the Illini have to get consistent play from big men James Augustine, Roger Powell and Nick Smith (a 7-footer from Tampa) if they're going to win this. Arizona is known for its up-tempo game, but the Wildcats are underrated defensively. G Salim Stoudamire (51.5 percent from three-point range) gets a lot of notice for his shooting, but C Channing Frye is Arizona's key guy. If he is shut down in the low post, the Wildcats become too perimeter-oriented. A wild card is F Hassan Adams, who needs to hit some perimeter shots to help out Stoudamire. It'll be interesting to see what Arizona does with Adams on defense.
- Orlando Sentinel