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Big Ten

10th-seeded Illini work way into title game

Illinois’ Brian Randle gives his best effort to keep the ball inbounds during the second half. 
The Illini became the lowest seed to reach the championship game since 1999.

Associated Press

Illinois’ Brian Randle gives his best effort to keep the ball inbounds during the second half. The Illini became the lowest seed to reach the championship game since 1999.

INDIANAPOLIS — Shaun Pruitt scored 16, Brian Randle had 11 and Illinois' post players overpowered Minnesota on Saturday, sending the surprising Illini to the Big Ten championship game with a 54-50 victory.

Tenth-seeded Illinois has won a season-high four straight and needs to win a fourth game in four days to clinch the conference's automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

"We've learned to win. This is what our program expects — to be at this position," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I know there are a lot of people that didn't anticipate us being here, but we deserve to be here and we feel we can beat anybody."

Minnesota was led by Lawrence McKenzie with 13 points and Damian Johnson with eight.

Both teams were playing for the third time in three days, and the Golden Gophers had less than 15 hours to recover from their last-second victory over No. 22 Indiana in the quarterfinals. Minnesota looked tired after the emotionally draining win.

But the Illini showed no sign of fatigue in becoming the lowest seed to reach the championship game since 1999, when Illinois did it as the No. 11 seed.

"We used to play four games in one day in AAU," said Chester Frazier, who has played 114 of a possible 125 minutes on two sore knees. "I feel great. You forget about everything when you're winning. We're winning with adrenaline, diving on the floor. Even Shaun is diving on the floor."

The Gophers missed six of their first eight free throws, 11 of their first 17 field-goal attempts and got into early foul trouble.

No. 8 Wisconsin 65, No. 19 Mich. St. 63: Michael Flowers would have made a great cornerback.

Flowers intercepted a pass intended for Drew Neitzel with 30 seconds left, and his driving layup was the difference in Wisconsin's victory that sent the Badgers to the title game. Well, Flowers' strip and score and a whole bunch of fouls.

The Badgers were able to overcome a rough day offensively thanks in part to the Spartans' foul trouble. Michigan State was called for 30 fouls and had four players foul out — three in one 56-second span alone.

"I'm very disappointed in the outcome," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who was so upset he had to stop several times to compose himself in his postgame news conference. "I don't plan on getting over this today. I don't plan on getting over this tomorrow. On Monday, I'll get over it."

The Badgers, meanwhile, are just happy to keep playing after rallying from 12 down in the second half.

"I don't think words can really describe what the guys did in the comeback," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Probably the best way to describe it is to put a DVD on, watch it again and make your own observations."

The Spartans were in foul trouble from the start, averaging a foul a minute at one point in the first half. Leading scorer Raymar Morgan and big men Goran Suton, Drew Naymick and Idong Ibok fouled out, and Isaiah Dahlman was the only one of the 12 Spartans who played who didn't get at least one foul.

10th-seeded Illini work way into title game 03/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:40am]
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