Well, today’s the last day of Illini Week on the Big Ten Network, with the memorable 2004-2005 demolition of #1-ranked Wake Forest at the orange-clad Assembly Hall (airing at 5 pm central) a perfect topping for my live blogging efforts in the last couple of days.
In short time, the Illini would storm out ahead of the Demon Deacons, showing not only Chris Paul and his Demon Deacons but all of college basketball who was the nation’s best team.
Here are the starters for this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game from December 1, 2004.
2004-2005 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-0 entering this game, #1 in the country)
Forward Jamaal Levy (6-9 Senior)
Forward Vytas Danelius (6-9 Senior)
Center Eric Williams (6-9 Junior)
Guard Justin Gray (6-2 Junior)
Guard Chris Paul (6-0 Sophomore)
Head Coach: The late Skip Prosser
2004-2005 Illinois Fighting Illini (4-0 entering this game, #5 in the country)
Forward Roger Powell (6-5 Senior)
Center James Augustine (6-10 Junior)
Guard Luther Head (6-3 Senior)
Guard Dee Brown (5-11 Junior)
Guard Deron Williams (6-3 Junior)
Head Coach Bruce Weber (2nd season at Illinois)
Announcers: Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery
Back Story: Unlike previous Illini basketball classics airing this week (1989 Georgia Tech-Illinois; 1989 Illinois-Indiana; 1991 LSU-Illinois), I actually remember this game when it occurred, as I was in my last semester (make it last couple of weeks) at the U-of-I. At the time, I was interning for the Video Department of the Division of Intercollegiate Atheltics, running the replay machines for the new Daktronics scoreboard at the Assembly Hall. As I arrived an hour early for the game, I was extremely nervous (despite Illinois destroying a good Gonzaga team days earlier in Indianapolis and my own assertion during a journalism bar crawl the night before that the Illini were going to destroy Wake). Well, thank goodness the Illini ballers weren’t nervous, as they came out of the gate to crush Wake Forest. I remember after this game, going back to the Assembly Hall to help pack up video equipment, when Wake Forest Head Coach Skip Prosser walked past me with a look on his face as if he didn’t know what hit his team. The Illini would leave a lot of opponents looking and feeling that way in the 2004-2005 season, the 100th year of Illinois basketball.
5:09 pm: The Assembly Hall is rocking here, with Illinois in all orange and Wake Forest donned in black. Williams and Augustine will jump for the ball, and Illinois wins the tip, with the ball landing in Brown’s hands. Illinois sets up its motion offense. Off trademark ball movement, Williams gets and misses an open three before Powell gets a hustle rebound. Head misses a baseline jumper before Augustine grabs the board and gets fouled on the play. Augustine at the line for two, swishes the first and rattles home the second. Luther Head starts on Chris Paul. Williams on the 6-9 Levy. Gray misses a deep three, but Levy puts the ball back in for a layup. Pushing the ball up the court, Williams hits Brown for a corner three. Dee for three, as they used to say. Eric Williams responds with a nice turnaround on the block over Powell. Responding, Powell faces up Danelius and hits a mid-range jumper, his specialty. Deron Williams is called for a blocking foul against Levy. Gray misses a baseline jumper and Powell snags another board. Williams blows by baseline and feeds Head for a layup. What a gorgeous setup. Williams picks up his second foul on another blocking foul. Williams a little too jacked up. Gray hits a three off the inbound. 9-7 Illinois. Rich McBride in for Williams. Head blows by Levy at the top of the key for an easy lay in. Danelius hits Levy on a nice pass, but the big fellow misses a reverse layup. Pace picks up as Brown misses a three, Paul misses a layup and McBride cans a three out of the corner. 14-7 Illinois. Williams misses a tough jumper in the lane out of the double from Powell and Augustine. On the other end, Powell misses a dunk on a beautiful set up from Brown. Danelius silences the crowd with a three before Powell sparks them again with a makeup three. Danelius misses a jumper and McBride is long on a transition three. Over the back foul on Powell at the under fifteen timeout. Illinois leads 17-10.
5:15 pm: Wake’s ball out of the timeout. Gray misses a jumper and Illinois’ enigmatic big man Nick Smith pulls down a board. Brown running the point for Illinois with Deron Williams saddled with foul trouble. Nick Smith misses a three, with Paul getting the long rebound and scoring a layup on the break. Nice end-to-end push from Paul. Illinois turns the ball over, a rare mistake in the early going. Paul takes a breather. Gray misses a tough jumper in the lane and Powell gets the board. In the transition game, Brown makes a beautiful full-court pass to Smith, who can not finish on the play but draws a shooting foul. Smith at the line, and sinks the first free throw before clanking the second. A scrum ensues for the rebound, with Wake getting the 50/50 ball. Eric Williams abuses Smith on the inside for an easy bucket. 18-14 Illinois. Head hits a three at the top of the key off a pick and roll. Head with seven points. Eric Williams misses and Head gets the board. Powell hits a nice baseline jumper. 23-14 Illinois as the Assembly Hall is going crazy on “Paint the Hall Orange” night. Eric Williams draws a foul on Nick Smith at the under twelve timeout. Illinois up 23-14 thanks to its seniors Head and Powell, who both have seven points.
5:23 pm: Illinois is 1-19 all-time against #1 ranked teams and 1-4 at home heading into this game. Eric Williams at the line, where he sinks the first and bricks the second. Powell with another board. Wake goes to a 1-3-1, with Paul kicking a Dee Brown pass out of bounds. Rich McBride cans another three from the wing. Wake misses a quick shot, with the ball bouncing out to Illinois. Paul kicks another Brown pass out of bounds. 26-15 Illinois with 11 minutes to go. Against the 1-3-1, McBride’s baseline drive sets up a Roger Powell layup. Great recovery by Powell to catch that pass. Pace picks up, with Wake’s Kyle Visser making a layup. Nick Smith misses a baseline jumper, and Wake pushes on the break, before Illinois ties them up. Possession arrow to Wake. Deron Williams and Jack Ingram come into the game for Illinois. Paul misses a tough baseline jumper and Ingram with a nice box out on Visser, allowing Head to secure the board. Deron Williams misses a three and Wake secures the rebound with several eager Illinois players falling down all over the place. Great hustle. Wake Forest’s Downey travels. Head misses a pull-up jumper over Wake’s Trent Strickland and Ingram just grazes on a tip-in attempt. Chris Paul beautifully splits a double by Head and Ingram and hits a one-hand floater, drawing a foul on Ingram. Paul hits the free throw. 28-20 Illinois. Deron Williams is fouled by Strickland. Williams is holding his jaw (which he broke during his sophomore year). Williams calls a timeout after struggling to get the ball inbound.
5:27 pm: Williams blows by Paul on the baseline and hits Head in the opposite corner for a three. Augustine blocks a driving Chris Paul shot, which Williams fires to Dee Brown for a fast-break layup. 33-20 Illinois. Augustine is called for a foul as Illinois traps the ball screen. Augustine deflects a pass to Williams, who fires up court, too far ahead of the Illini center. Wake retrieves the ball, and misses two straight interior shots before Levy grabs the board. Head misses a shot, with Brown coming out of nowhere to grab a board. Augustine scores on a layup. The Illini force a turnover and score again. Wake Forest takes a timeout. Illinois seizing control here.
5:31 pm: 37-22 Illinois with 6:40 to go off the Illinois 9-2 run. Downey misses an acrobatic layup but Levy tips the ball in. Head hits Powell for a nice layup. Wake misses a three. Head blows by Downey but misses a banker. Paul hits Eric Williams for a layup. Wake deflects an Illinois pass out of bounds. 39-26 Illinois with 4:29 remaining and a timeout.
5:40 pm: Nick Smith hits Dee Brown out of a 1-4 set for a beautiful backdoor layup. Chris Paul misses a one-handed floater. Brown hits a jumper and the Illini lead by 17. Brown is 5-for-6 with 11 points. Gray air balls a jumper (great defense from the smaller Brown), but Levy calls a timeout as he’s falling out of bounds. Gray turned his ankle on the play. Paul misses a runner out of timeout but grabs a rebound among the trees and scores on a nasty put back. Dee Brown hits another long deuce. Downey hits a three, out of a cross-court double of Eric Williams. McBride misses a three out of the zone, but Powell grabs the board. Dee hits another three, now 7-of-8 from the field. Eric Williams scores a layup. Powell hits a three off a back pick. Illinois is on fire. Wake misses a three. Brown is feeling it and takes a deep three on the break (he finally misses). Illinois up 51-33 with 1:00 left. Paul misses a three. Powell grabs the board, and Illinois hits the brakes on the frenetic pace. Roger Powell hits a spinning layup in the lane in the lane with 25 seconds, drawing a foul on the play. Illinois is up 20, 53-33 with 25 seconds left. A t.v. timeout. Powell with 16 points and 6 boards. Dee Brown is absolutely killing, with 16 points as well. Illinois humiliating Wake, all with Deron Williams sitting.
5:44 pm: Powell completes the three-point play with a free throw and is taken out of the game to a standing ovation. Wake misses a driving shot and Head fires a 75-footer that hits off the back iron as the horn sounds. That would have been a fitting end to the first half. Illinois up 54-33. #1 Wake Forest is at a loss for words and ways to stop Powell (17 points) and Brown (16 points). Illinois is doing all of this without Williams even scoring yet. What a balanced team.
5:53 pm: Illinois was an amazing 8-for-16 from three in the first half. The underrated Powell was 7-for-8 from the field on the way to 17 points. Wake’s backcourt was just 4-for-17 from the field, with Deron Williams holding Gray to 1-for-8. It’s Illinois ball to start the second half. Head misses a baseline jumper that rolls around the rim. Wake turns the ball over, trying to start a fast break but throwing the ball over Eric Williams’ hands. Illinois running some time through the motion until Head misses a three. Head strips Eric Williams on the other end. Dee Brown hits the side of the backboard and Justin Gray hits a three out of the corner on the break. 54-36 Illinois with 18 minutes left. Illinois looking for first bucket of half, and Augustine gets it with a lefty layup. Nice post pass by Deron Williams. Wake misses three interior buckets and Brown misses a transition three. Gray follows with his own miss on a transition three. This game is off to a sloppy start in the second half. Paul fouls Williams with some overaggressive defense. Deron Williams misses a tough jumper in the lane but Augustine tips the ball in. Great effort there by Augustine, who Raftery says is the key to this Illinois team. On the other end, Eric Williams hits a turnaround over Augustine. Powell is fouled over the back by Levy on a post pass from Luther Head. Roger Powell misses a tough banker on the inside. A penetrating Paul feeds Eric Williams, who misses a free throw line jumper. Deron Williams misses a three, and Justin Gray knocks down a three. Gray with six quick second half points. 58-41 Illinois with 15 minutes left. Illinois with a bit of a letdown here at the start of the second half. Williams takes Paul into the lane, gets him in the air on a pump fake, but misses another jumper. Levy is called for a foul on Powell during the rebound. Under sixteen timeout, with Illinois not playing all that great out of the break but still up 17.
5:59 pm: 14:38 left to go out of the timeout. Deron Williams blows by the Wake defense and fires a ball off Augustine’s hands. The ball goes out of bounds to Wake Forest. Paul misses a three. On the other end, Head jab steps Gray and lines up and buries a three. Wake misses another rushed shot. Williams gets in the lane and fakes Gray out of his shorts. Williams then buries the jumper for his first two points of the game. Illinois up 22. Eric Williams is fouled by Augustine during a double with Powell. Eric Williams has had a decent game for Wake. Williams cuts the game to 20 (63-43) with two made free throws. Deron Williams hits another jumper, on a beautiful pass from Brown and great off-the-ball movement by the future Utah Jazz star. Wake turns the ball over. A sloppy Deron Williams is pick pocketed by Paul, but Wake’s Downey misses a three. The ball caroms out of bounds to Illinois. 65-43 Illinois with 12:31 remaining.
6:05 pm: Out of the timeout, Eric Williams is shown on the bench slapping fives with a Wake teammate (as if he’s not disturbed by the big deficit). Deron Williams drives and finds Nick Smith at the top of the key for a jumper that’s good. D-Will is picking up his game here in the second half (not that it matters at this point). Wake tries a lob pass but fails, and Illinois pushes the ball, Brown hitting McBride for a three. McBride’s got three treys on the game, and Illinois is up 27, 70-43 with 11:30 to go. Gray misses a three, and the speedster Brown pushes again to McBride, who misses a three that would have blown the top off the Assembly Hall. Jay Bilas sums up this game best: “Wake has gotten punched in the mouth and is stunned.” So am I by this demolition effort from the Illini. Ultimately, this game is a preview of things to come in 2004-2005.
6:11 pm: BTN moves up in the game a bit, with Illinois leading by 30, 79-49 with 8:34 remaining. The Assembly Hall is beginning the “Overrated” chat. McDonough says that he thought Kansas or UNC were the best teams in the country, that is until tonight. Deron Williams fouls Levy on the baseline, and the two engage in some smack talking before the refs step in. Chris Paul is called for a travel on the ensuing play. Deron Williams hits Augustine on a pick and roll for an 81-49 lead. Wake misses again, and Illinois pushes the ball out before falling back into the motion. Head misses a pull-up jumper off of an Ingram screen. Augustine knocks the ball out of bounds. It’ll be Wake’s ball out of the under-eight timeout. Illinois is up 32 and shooting 57 percent from the field. An unbelievable performance.
6:19 pm: Powell and Brown on the bench, with Dee chewing a towell like Tark the Shark and looking bored. Eric Williams gets a spin-o-rama layup to go for his 17th and 18th points. Deron Williams scores on a beautiful back-cut layup, fumbling the ball and still getting the reverse shot to go. Luther Head with a great bounce pass. Wake’s Downey hits a quick three to cut the deficit to 29. Deron Williams burns Downey, driving to the baseline and drawing the foul. Illinois brings in sophomore Warren Carter. Williams hits Jack Ingram off the inbound play for a layup. Williams then steals a Wake pass in the half court before eventually missing a three. Williams has made up for a quiet first half (due to his foul trouble) with an aggressive second half that foreshadows his amazing abilities. Wake hits two free throws, as I miss the foul on an Illini player. 85-56 with 5:25 left. Deron Williams is carving up Wake now, getting his 10th assist on a beautiful baseline drive and no-look feed to Carter, who banks in the ball and draws a foul. Carter misses the free throw and fouls Danelius on the other end. Danelius can’t complete the three-point play but Wake grabs the board. Carter gets in the passing lane and deflects a ball out of bounds off of Wake. Illinois leads 87-58 as Bilas says that Illinois’ guards are clearly better than Wake’s duo of Paul and Gray. Bilas adds that the next comparable challenge for Williams and Brown are North Carolina’s backcourt duo of Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants. Four months later, UNC and Illinois will face off in the national title game.
6:27 pm: Deron Williams with a rare mistake, dribbling the ball off his leg and turning it over. Downey hits a three for Wake Forest. Now the debate among the announcers is between Wake and North Carolina’s front court and bench players. Nick Smith misses a jumper and Wake responds with their own miss. Bilas marvels at Brown’s ability to move off the ball and restates that Wake Forest looks “absolutely beat up and demoralized.” Kyle Visser scores for Wake and the game is down to 24 (87-63). Clearly worried, Bruce Weber takes a 20-second timeout with 2:55 remaining. The Assembly Hall begins the “We’re Number One” chant. Freshman Shaun Pruitt gets a bucket on a nice post move. Man, he was skinny as a freshman. Some white kid for Wake (Richard Joyce) hits a three. 89-66 with 2:00 left. Bilas says that there is “no way that Illinois would lose by 30 at Wake Forest.” Downey hits a three, and Weber calls a timeout to get some more subs in. Dee Brown leaves the game to a standing ovation. He didn’t score in the second half after an amazing first half. Warren Carter hits another baseline jumper. 91-69 with 1:05 left. Wake’s Joyce scores again, on a put back. McBride misses and Downey turns the ball over on a fast break. ESPN takes an unnecessary television timeout with 40 seconds left and Illinois up 20.
6:30 pm: Illinois misses a jumper out of the timeout (as Weber screams at his players to take no more shots), and the Illini foul Joyce, who hits two free throws. 7 quick points for the unknown Wake player. Illinois dribbles the ball out. This game is over, a 91-73 thrashing. Illinois with its second victory over a #1-ranked team, the first time since Eddie Johnson beat Michigan State’s Magic Johnson in 1979. An overwhelming performance by the Illini.
Postgame Analysis/Commentary: What else can you say? This game brought Illinois to the forefront of the college basketball world in 2004-2005 (the year of Illini basketball) while Wake would never really be viewed in the same way. Illinois’ ability to kill you with any one of its five starters was especially apparent in the first half, with Powell and Brown going off while Williams sat in foul trouble for most of the first 20 minutes. Head and Augustine were solid as usual, making brilliant plays in spurts, and Williams really demonstrated his ability to run a team in the second half. There’s no other way to say it: this game was just another flat-out beat down from the Illini, who would go on to beat Arkansas three days later and be ranked #1 the following week.
What Both Teams Did the Rest of the Way: Illinois would be ranked #1 throughout the rest of the ’04-05 season (that is, until the final rankings), going an amazing 29-0 until losing the Big Ten regular season finale to Ohio State on a last-second three from Matt Sylvester of all people. The Illini would rebound with heavy hearts in the Big Ten Tournament, winning the conference tournament after Bruce Weber’s mother died shortly following the first round game against Northwestern. Illinois would enter the 2005 NCAA Tournament as the #1 overall seed, survive a scare against Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round and get past Nevada in the second round thanks to Augustine’s offensive heroics. In the Sweet Sixteen (held in Rosemont, Illinois), the Illini would handle Bruce Pearl’s upstart UW-Milwaukee Panthers and pull off a miracle comeback against Arizona in the Elite Eight. Driving to St. Louis for the Final Four, Illinois would pull away from Louisville in the second half of the national semifinal (with my all-time Illini favorite Powell playing out of his mind) and face North Carolina in the dream title game. We all know what happened there. Illinois trailed 40-27 at the break, and fought back to tie the game in the second half. Illinois could never get over the hump though, missing three threes in the final minute and losing 75-70. Despite losing in the title game, the ’04-05 Illini will never be matched by another Illinois team in terms of end-to-end excitement and dominance. In simple terms, it was the greatest team to ever play at Illinois. While the Flyin’ Illini were more talented, the 2004-2005 Illini (37-2) were the epitome of the words “team” and “selflessness.”
As for the ’04-05 Wake Forest squad, it would never be the same (at least in the court of national opinion) following the drubbing against Illinois. Wake would finish 27-6 and get a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where the Demon Deacons would lose in double overtime during a classic second round game against the 10-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers. Paul would leave the school following this game and be picked 4th overall by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 NBA Draft (Deron Williams was picked a spot ahead of Paul (a bit surprising at the time) by the Utah Jazz). A few short years later, the well-respected Prosser would die while jogging. He was only 56 years old.
Well, it’s been fun this week watching and blogging about some of the greatest Illinois basketball games in the last 25 years.
Over the weekend, I’ll get back to reality and look at our current Illini ballers.
Topics: 2004-2005 Illinois Basketball, 2005 Final Four, ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Big 10 Greatest Games, Big 10 Network, Big Ten's Greatest Games, Bruce Weber, Chris Paul, Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Devan Downey, Eric Williams, Illini Basketball, Illini Basketball Classics, Illinois Basketball, Jack Ingram, Jamaal Levy, James Augustine, Justin Gray, Luther Head, Nick Smith, Rich McBride, Roger Powell, Roger Powell Jr., Shaun Pruitt, Trent Strickland, Vytalus Danelius, Wake Forest Basketball, Warren Carter