Illinois 80, Kansas 64

Saturday, March 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Midway through the first half, Kansas had more turnovers than points and was struggling to even get off a shot. Then came the bruises.

After stifling the Jayhawks with defense, Illinois pounded back any possible comebacks by rotating in fresh bodies from its deep well of reserves.

All that was left was offense, and Frank Williams took care of that with a career-high 30 points as the Midwest Region's top seed advanced to the final eight with an 80-64 victory Friday night.

``Their physical size and rebounding ability took us out of our game plan,'' said Kansas coach Roy Williams, who suffered the biggest blowout loss in his 37 tournament games over 12 seasons. ``Illinois made us play less than a perfect game, to say the least.''

Illinois (27-7) will play Arizona, the No. 2 seed, Sunday for a spot in the Final Four. It'll be their third meeting of the season, with each team having won once. The Wildcats advanced by beating Mississippi 66-56 Friday night.

The Illini strolled into this weekend coming off a 42-point victory over Northwestern State and an 18-point win over Charlotte. Those were pretty. This one was ugly.

``We felt like it had to be,'' said Self, who became the first coach to take different teams to the final eight in consecutive years. He guided Tulsa to the Midwest final last year, then took over the Illini in June after Lon Kruger went to the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

``We knew if it got physical, we could win it with our bench.''

Illinois, enjoying its best tourney run since making the Final Four in 1989, knew it had the bulky frontcourt players and speedy guards to match up with Kansas. Depth was the extra weapon.

The Illini's strengths came together perfectly as their smothering defense and quick hands forced the Jayhawks (26-7) into nine turnovers in the first seven minutes. Illinois used that for an 11-0 run that put it ahead for good.

Kansas scratched to 23-21 about five minutes before halftime, but Williams answered with two 3-pointers, and the Illini pulled ahead 41-29 at the break.

The Jayhawks kept their deficit in single digits most of the second half, but with Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden in foul trouble, they lacked the firepower to mount a serious run.

Although Illinois wasn't shooting much better, its rotating door of reserves kept pumping life into their game. The Illini backups outscored Kansas' 28-0, with Luke Johnson scoring 15.

The extra bodies also gave the Illini more fouls to use. With Kansas making only 18 of 35 free throws, there was no reason not to whack any Jayhawk with an open shot _ or even the possibility of one.

``I think unquestionably our bench was the difference in the game,'' said starting center Marcus Griffin, who fouled out with just two points. ``We had several guys in foul trouble all night long. If our bench didn't play like it did, I think we'd be on our way home right now.''

Williams, the Big Ten player of the year, hit 11 of 24 shots, including 3-of-7 on 3-pointers, and all five free throws he tried. His previous high was 27 _ against next-round opponent Arizona.

The Illini needed his big night to offset Cory Bradford going 1-of-13, including 1-of-9 on 3-pointers. Sergio McLain had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Kansas ended its longest tournament run since '97. After trailing by 14 early in the second half, the fourth-seeded Jayhawks got within five twice, then were outscored 10-0 during the final 1:24 to make the game look more lopsided than it really was.

``We weren't able to get offensive rebounds, which has been a big part of our offense all year,'' said Williams, whose season began with his decision to stay in Lawrence instead of going to coach his alma mater, North Carolina.

Nick Collison led Kansas with 23 points, but he hurt the Jayhawks down the stretch by missing five straight free throws. He was 6-of-14 at the line.

Gooden, who averaged 18.5 points in the first two rounds, had 13 points and nine rebounds. Hinrich, his game thrown off by chasing Williams, fouled out with 13 points and six rebounds.

``They were pretty tough out there,'' said guard Jeff Boschee, who had three points on 1-of-7 shooting, all 3-point attempts. ``We were pretty tired out there, but you have to be mentally tough. It's as good of a man defense as we've played.''

The worn-out Jayhawks also were outrebounded 45-33 after averaging 27 more boards than their opponents last weekend.