College Baskeball Roundup

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Michigan State is not conceding the Big Ten championship, and Illinois is not accepting the favorite's label.

The seventh-ranked Illini beat the fourth-ranked Spartans 77-66 Tuesday night, ending a five-game losing streak to the defending national champions and taking a one-game lead in the conference.

``That was a big step,'' first-year Illinois coach Bill Self said. ``In order to be considered among the elite, you've got to beat the elite.''

Cory Bradford, who had not scored more than 20 points all season, partly because a gimpy knee put a hitch in his jump shot, killed the Spartans with six 3-pointers and 22 points.

``These guys have been kicking our butts the last couple years,'' Bradford said. ``They've been the team to beat in the Big Ten. We felt it was our time to take over.''

Not so fast, Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. There are six Big Ten games left.

``We're going to try to win the next six,'' Izzo said. ``We've been in this position before. I don't think the Big Ten is won in one game. This team has some young players and they have to grow and realize one, two or three mistakes can cost you a game.''

In other games involving ranked teams on Tuesday night, it was No. 1 North Carolina 80, No. 19 Wake Forest 74; Kentucky 71, No. 8 Florida 70; and Georgia Tech 72, No. 13 Maryland 62.

Michigan State (18-3, 7-3) was 3-for-18 from 3-point range, most of the misses coming during two lengthy runs by the Illini to finish both halves.

But Izzo said the Spartans lost because of ``complete mental breakdowns'' on defense, especially against Bradford.

``We had some defensive lapses and you can't leave him open,'' Spartans guard Charlie Bell said. ``It takes a lot out of you. He was knocking down every shot he took, even with a hand in his face.''

Illinois (18-5, 8-2) also got 14 points from Frank Williams and 12 from Brian Cook. Jason Richardson led Michigan State with 19 points, and Bell added 14.

Self implored his team to do better on the boards, constantly reminding them Michigan State was leading the nation in that statistic and that Illinois lost at East Lansing last year mostly because it got outrebounded 41-16. On Tuesday, Michigan State's advantage on the boards was just 35-29.

Izzo said Michigan State had an even harder time dealing with Illinois' depth and versatility because the Spartans played on Sunday.

``One day is hard to prepare for a team that is as good as they are, as deep as they are,'' Izzo said. ``And then to go on the road.''

Midway through the first half, Illinois' pressure defense became a factor. Bradford hit a 3-pointer, the Illinois press forced Michigan State into a turnover in the backcourt and Williams hit another 3.

That started a 22-8 run that ended with Illinois ahead 34-27 with 1:37 left in the first half. Zach Randolph hit two free throws to make it 34-29 at the half.

The second half started much like the first, with Illinois sloppy and Michigan State taking advantage by scoring the first 10 points to regain a 39-34 lead with 17:14 to go.

The Illini began driving inside, and Michigan State's Richardson and Andre Hutson each picked up their third fouls.

With Richardson and Hutson out, the Illini began what would be the decisive run. Damir Krupalija made two free throws to give Illinois the lead for good, 51-50, with 9:35 remaining.

Bradford followed with another 3-pointer as the Illini went on a 22-9 run to go up 73-59 with less than two minutes left.

``He's drug his leg around a good portion of the games so far and never once complained,'' Self said. ``Tonight, he had a different bounce. He was awesome. He got those 3s against one of the best defensive teams in the country.''

No. 1 North Carolina 80, No. 19 Wake Forest 74

Joseph Forte scored 24 points and the Tar Heels (20-2, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 54 percent in their first game as the nation's No. 1 team. The victory extended North Carolina's NCAA record of consecutive 20-win seasons to 31.

Craig Dawson had a career-high 29 points for the Demon Deacons (15-7, 4-6), who have lost seven of 10 and saw their 14-game home winning streak snapped.

Kentucky 71, No. 8 Florida 70

Tayshaun Prince had 19 points, including a running hook shot in the lane with 3.3 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats (14-7, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) won their fourth straight and 11th of 13.

Brett Nelson had 18 points for the visiting Gators (15-5, 5-4), who had a four-game winning streak ended. They trailed by 13 points with 16 minutes to play and rallied for a late lead, but failed to get off a good shot on their last possession.

Georgia Tech 72, No. 13 Maryland 62

Tony Akins scored 28 points, including a critical 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining, and the Yellow Jackets (13-8, 5-5 ACC) posted their third victory over a ranked opponent and matched their overall and league victory totals for all of last season.

Juan Dixon had 18 points for the visiting Terrapins (15-7, 6-4), who committed 23 turnovers and scored just two points in the final 4 1/2 minutes.