Join Writing Illini right here later today for another edition of Illini Basketball Classics, a live blogging experience during re-airs of classic Illinois basketball games.
At 5 p.m. central time, the Big Ten Network is revisiting the 2003 showdown between Illinois and the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center, where the conference regular season championship was on the line. During the BTN telecast, I will provide some live commentary and play-by-play, so simply tune your television and click on the Continue Reading link to follow along.
While Illinois would lose this game on a late foul call, the team’s heart and overall effort were spectacular in the final minutes, with freshman guard Dee Brown inspiring a gutsy rally that would fall just short but foreshadow the competitive greatness of a freshman and sophomore class that would lead the Illini to the National Championship Game just two years later.
Leading Up to This Game
Before we revisit this game, let’s look back at that season’s earlier contest between the Badgers and Fighting Illini. On Saturday, January 11, 2003, Illinois defeated Wisconsin 69-63 at the Assembly Hall, where senior forward Brian Cook led the team with an amazing 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field (10-for-16 from two, 2-for-6 from three) and 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
The Illini also got a huge effort from freshman James Augustine, who scored 17 points (on 8-for-10 shooting) and added 8 rebounds to Cook’s team-leading 9 rebounds. The Illini also received 7 points from Luther Head off the bench and 6 points apiece from Dee Brown and Sean Harrington. Especially interesting, Deron Williams and Roger Powell Jr. did not score in this victory.
In the losing effort, the Badgers were led by Australian senior Kirk Penney, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Entering this rematch on Wednesday, March 5, 2003, Wisconsin led the Big Ten with an 11-4 record while the Illini were 10-4. After an 0-2 start in the conference, the Badgers had won 11 of its last 13 Big Ten games, including 3 straight. As for Illinois, it had won 4 in a row and not lost at home in the Big Ten, with its 4 losses coming on the road at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue.
With the victory, Illinois could have ensured at least a share of the Big Ten’s regular season title, as the Illini would have had the tie-breaker over the Badgers, which were playing its final regular-season conference game. After this Wisconsin game, Illinois would still have to play Minnesota at the Assembly Hall. Illinois would go on to win that game 84-60.
Where Was I For This Game
I vividly remember watching this game in my dorm room just off of the six pack. Let’s just say I wasn’t too happy with the game’s final foul call but was certainly proud of how the Illini came back at the house of horrors that typically is the Kohl Center.
With the stage set, let’s do this thing.
From March 5, 2003 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin
2002-2003 Illinois Starting Lineup
G Deron Williams (6-3 Freshman)
G Dee Brown (6-0 Freshman)
F Roger Powell (6-6 Sophomore)
F Brian Cook (6-10 Senior)
C James Augustine (6-10 Freshman)
Head Coach: Bill Self (3rd Season at Illinois)
2002-2003 Wisconsin Starting Lineup
G Kirk Penney (6-5 Senior)
G Freddie Owens (6-2 Junior)
G Devin Harris (6-3 Sophomore)
F Alando Tucker (6-6 Freshman)
F Mike Wilkinson (6-8 Sophomore)
Head Coach: Bo Ryan (Second Season at Wisconsin)
Announcers: Craig Coshun and Doug Altenberger
With the Big Ten Championship on the line, Illinois comes out in the blue uniforms and Wisconsin sports the red uniforms. James Augustine and Alando Tucker will jump, and the Illini win the tip. Brian Cook misses a quick turnaround on the first possession of the game. Devin Harris misses a three but Freddie Owens gets the offensive board. Kirk Penney misses a three. Roger Powell goes baseline and slams the ball home for a 2-0 lead. Powell is averaging 20 points per game in his last three. Tucker scores down low on Augustine to tie the game at 2. Illinois responds, with Cook hitting Dee Brown on a back-door cut for a layup and 4-2 Illini lead. Beautiful execution between the senior and freshman. Tucker is fouled hard during a dunk attempt by Powell. Tucker hits both free throws to tie the game at 4. Powell’s entry pass to Cook is stolen by Wilkinson. Bad pass there. A nice front by Wilkinson, who follows up and hits a three on the other end to put Wisconsin up 7-4. Deron Williams misses a runner in the lane, but Augustine follows with a one-handed right-hand slam. 7-6 Wisconsin. Penney buries a turn-around three over Williams to put Wisconsin up 10-6. A posting Cook is fouled down low by Wilkinson. Cook hits both free throws to cut the Illini deficit to 10-8. Tucker follows up a miss with a tip slam. 12-8 Wisconsin. What a play by the freshman, who has a 38-inch vertical leap. Brown misses a deep three. Williams gets beat off the ball on a back cut, and Penney scores for a 14-8 Wisconsin lead. Augustine is fouled by Tucker on a high-low pass, leading to the under-16 with 15 minutes left. Wisconsin leads 14-8. An exciting start thus far, with the Illini with 2 dunks and the Badgers with 1. Deron Williams is struggling with Penney and not yet the defender that he would wind up to be. Still, the fact that he drew Penney, the Badgers’ leading scorer and a candidate for Big Ten player of the year, is a reflection of his competitiveness.
Wisconsin is certainly feeding off the home energy early. The Kohl Center has been a difficult venue for the Illini, which lost to Kansas there in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Alright. Back to game action. Illinois brings senior Sean Harrington and sophomore Luther Head for Williams and Powell respectively. Cook scores on a quick inbound play to cut the Illini deficit to 14-10. Harrrington tracks down a missed Owens’ three and takes an aggressive left-handed layup that was missed and deflected out of bounds by Cook. Good closeout by Head at 14 minutes as Penney misses a three. Penney picks up his first foul and the third on Wisconsin as Head makes a good entry pass to Cook. At 13:29, Brown throws a nice pump fake but has his shot blocked out of bounds by Devin Harris, who’s been quiet thus far. Cook responds with a three to cut the game to 14-13 Badgers. Augustine is called for an off-the-ball foul at 13:01. Illinois Head Coach Bill Self will bring in 7-2 center Nick Smith. Andreas Helmigk comes in for Wilkinson. Penney turns the ball over and Illinois responds at the other end as Head hits a layup. He then tips a missed Badgers’ shot to Harrington. Dee Brown misses a scoop layup created off another head fake. Cook blocks a Tucker shot and Smith comes up with a tough rebound. Cook misses a difficult interior shot (he got hammered there) but the ball was knocked out of bounds. The possession will stay with Illinois coming out of the under-12. Illinois is on a 7-0 run to take a 15-14 lead. Cook is the great stabilizer, with his senior experience and versatility. The Illini have gotten a nice spark from Head, who has been dealing with a nagging groin injury for most of the season.
Out of the break, Williams is in for Brown. Smith is fouled on a high-low feed from Cook. I forgot how good the Illini were at the high-low under Self. Smith hits the first free throw and the second as Illinois now leads 17-14. The Illini have a done a great job of settling down. Williams with great help defense, nearly stealing the ball from Penney, who misses a jumper. After clearing the defensive board, Cook misses a turn-around jumper over Tucker. Wilkinson is back in for Wisconsin. Powell is in for the Illini as is Augustine for Cook. Dave Mader is also in for Wisconsin, getting Tucker. Head is out for the Illini. Smith blocks a Mader shot. Dee Brown misses a corner three and Smith gets away with an over-the-back foul. Don’t remember Smith playing with such physicality. Too bad he could never sustain that type of play throughout his career. Augustine misses a jumper at 9 minutes. Both teams are doing a great job on the glass. Mader hits a shot high over Smith to cut the Illinois lead to 17-16 and break a 7-minute Badger scoring drought. Deron Williams hits a jumper off the screen and roll to put Illinois up three. Smith deflects an interior pass to Mader. Both teams get on the floor, and the ball is tied up. Wisconsin will get the ball out of the break, with Illinois leading 19-16. Nick Smith has provided the Illini with a nice shot in the arm.
Tucker leads Wisconsin with 6 points; Cook with 7. Dee Brown has 2 points, and Devin Harris has yet to score. Illinois with 7 second-chance points to 2 for Wisconsin. Harris gets off the snide and hits a three to tie the game at three. Man, Harris was an Illini killer during his three seasons at Wisconsin. Powell badly bricks a flat-footed three from the top of the key. Cook saves an Owens’ miss to Williams, who finds Powell open on the baseline. Powell misses another open look, where he was once again affected by flat feet. Augustine picks up his second foul and is replaced by Smith, who is a half-a-second slow to close out on a corner three from Harris. Wisconsin leads 22-19. The Badgers are 4-for-8 from three. Illinois has hit one (Cook). Harrington misses a flat-footed shot in the lane. Altenberger notes how the Illini have come out flustered since the under-8 timeout. Self takes a timeout as Tucker buries a three. Wisconsin leads 25-19 thanks to a 9-0 run sparked by three straight possessions with a three. The Illini killer Harris has woken up. Wisconsin is now 5-for-9 from three; Illinois just 1-for-4. How did the Illini let Tucker (who is from Lockport, Illinois) get away to Wisconsin? Just joking.
The Illini have broken down on their three-point defense, to the dismay of Self. Smith comes out of the break and makes a sloppy reverse pass that is too high for Williams to corral. Head is back in for Harrington. Williams buys a Penney head fake but recovers; it doesn’t matter as Penney hits a tough pop-back jumper for a 27-19 lead. Brown ends an 11-0 run with a back-door layup for his fourth point and a 27-21 game. Wilkinson misses a three, and Cook follows with his own miss on a turn-around jumper. Smith follows up with a foul at half court, leading to the under-4 timeout. That’s the Nick Smith Illini fans remember.
Down 6, Illinois comes out with Smith, Cook, Head, Williams and Brown. Tucker posts Cook but travels. Dee Brown turns it back over with his own travel, dragging his pivot foot. Illinois starting to turn the ball over. Penney scores on Williams for a 29-21 Badger lead. Altenberger notes that Penney is licking his chops with the freshman Williams guarding him. Brown responds with a three to cut the deficit to 29-24. A big shot by Brown, keeping the Illini within striking distance. Head is now on Penney, who misses a baseline jumper. Illinois hits Cook on a high-low feed (a great one from Head) and the senior slams the ball through the hoop for a 29-26 Wisconsin lead. Bo Ryan takes a :30 second timeout. Out of the timeout, Powell returns for Smith and commits a foul down low. That’s two on Powell, who is replaced by Smith, who has spelled Augustine (2 fouls). Head blocks a Penney shot, but the ball goes to Harris, who hits a three to put Illinois down 32-26. Out-of-control on the drive, Head gets his shot blocked by Wilkinson and the ball is knocked out of bounds by Cook. Head gets the hook, with Harrington replacing him. Harris misses a long-range three on a nice closeout by the smaller Brown. Brown misses a corner three and Harris misses a buzzer-beating three just inside half-court. Wisconsin leads 32-26 at the break.
Out of halftime, the ball goes to Wisconsin. Harris, Penney and Tucker all had 9 points. Cook had 9 for Illinois, Brown 7 and 5 Illini with 2 points. Cook misses a turn-around jumper, and Powell fouls Penney on the rebound. Powell has three fouls and is replaced by Harrington. Penney hits a pull-up three, with Williams going under the screen, to put the Badgers up 35-26. Williams loses his footing but kicks to Brown, who penetrates but has his pass to Cook stolen by Wilkinson. Brown skies to rebound a missed Wisconsin jumper but Cook misses a quick turn-around shot. Williams does a nice job of moving his feet on the baseline, stripping the ball from Penney. He then beats the Australian on the other end, scoring a layup and drawing the foul. Williams can’t complete the old-fashioned three-point play, and Wisconsin now leads 35-28. Tucker loses the ball due to Brown’s quick hands, and both teams hustle to the floor, with the ball tied up and the possession going to the Badgers. Wilkinson turns the ball over on a double dribble. Williams with a nice job of curling off the screen with the ball and hitting Cook with a no-look pass for a slam and 35-30 game. Starting to see Williams’ play-making abilities. Tucker gets baseline on the next possession, and Augustine commits his third foul. Augustine is replaced by Smith as Tucker hits both free throws to put the Badgers up 37-30. Cook has a fade-away mid-range jumper rattle in and out. Good over-the-top defense by Smith, who deflects an interior pass intended to Wilkinson over to Williams, who hits Brown for a layup. Williams then steals the ball and hits the one-man fast break Brown for another layup. Wisconsin will take a timeout as Illinois has cut the game to 37-34. Deron Williams has been a difference-maker during the last couple of possessions. Goodness gracious, Dee Brown was so quick.
15:46 remaining in the second half, where the Badgers already have 4 turnovers. The Illini have scored 8 points off those turnovers thus far in the half. Wilkinson misses a three from the top of the key off a post-pass from Penney. Illinois with a 22 to 8 advantage in point paints. Make that 24-8 as Smith hits Cook for a high-low layup and 37-36 Wisconsin lead. Wilkinson has a three rattle home for a 40-36 game. Cook misses a jumper over Tucker and Smith is called for an over-the-back foul. Smith is not happy with that call, and is actually playing with some toughness in this game. Good defense by Williams, who forces a turnover by Penney. Cook misses a wide open layup on the other end. Got to finish that one (and actually dunk the ball). Great help at 13:30 by Smith, who blocks a lefty layup by Wilkinson, who had beaten Cook off the dribble. The Badgers are hit with a technical after that play. Cook makes one out of two free throws to cut the deficit to 40-37. It looks like the technical was on the Wisconsin bench. Smith fails to catch an easy post pass, and the 6-2 Owens takes the ball away from the 7-footer, who immediately commits a foul. Both teams miss ensuing threes, by Owens and Harrington. Head and Powell return at 12:17 after Harrington was called for a tough blocking foul. Tucker has a three rattle in and out, with Head tracking down the board. Head then skies for the offensive rebound of a missed Cook baseline jumper, but Williams has a pass stolen. Owens hits a layup plus the foul and makes a free throw to put Illinois in a 43-37 hole at the under-12.
Illinois with a 24-10 advantage in point paints, but Wisconsin has a 24-8 advantage in perimeter points. Out of the break, Harrington makes a sloppy reverse pass to Head, with the ball knocked away by Tucker, who actually commits a foul on Head when tracking down the loose ball. Head didn’t have any explosiveness on that play, looking like a player who was dealing with a nagging injury. Illinois with a smaller lineup of Cook, Powell, Head, Harrington and Brown. Harrington hits Cook inside, who is swarmed by four Badgers but fouled on a layup attempt. Cook makes both free throws to cut the Badger lead to 43-39 with 10:30 left. Tucker penetrates but gets caught in the air, with his pass to Mader stolen by Brown. Powell gets good post position but misses a chippie half-hook. Powell can’t get one to foul down right now. Altenberger notes how Wisconsin is starting to look tired. Penney misses a three but Brown knocks the loose rebound out of bounds. Wilkinson is back in for Mader. Harris hits his first bucket in a while, a long two to put the Illini down 45-39. Augustine is back in the game. Tucker is called for a foul down low on Cook. The Wisconsin fans are irate, looking for a three-second call on Cook. Williams with a bad entry pass on the baseline inbound, trying to lob the ball over the top to Cook. Tucker gets away with a walk on the other end, and Augustine is called for his fourth foul. What is this? A preview of the 2005 National Championship Game for Augustine, who now has 4 fouls. Self takes a timeout with 8:38 to go and the Illini down 6.
Illinois is 5-13 this half; Wisconsin 4-12. Altenberger notes how the scoring is much more difficult in the second half as compared to the first half. Out of the Illinois timeout, Tucker splits a pair of free throws to put Wisconsin up 46-39. Brown gets in the lane and misses a difficult runner (there was a lot of contact on that curl). Brown hustles down the rebound and draws a foul on Tucker, who goes to the bench with 4 fouls. Altenberger notes that Tucker is the X-factor for Wisconsin. Cook immediately takes advantage with Tucker out, hitting a jumper over Mader for a 46-41 game. Brown is called for a hold on Harris, who hits the front end of the one-and-one but misses the second, which is tipped in by Wilkinson. Smith didn’t block out there, and Illinois now trails 49-41. Brown feeds Cook on the interior, and the Illini big man is hammered down low on a shot attempt. Cook splits the free throws to cut the Wisconsin lead to 49-42 at the under-8.
Illinois comes out of the break with Brown, Harrington, Williams, Cook and Smith. Wisconsin with Harris, Penney, Owens, Mader and Wilkinson. Penney misses a three and Cook skies for the board. Cook is called for an offensive foul on the other end. The Badgers are really tightening the screws defensively. Wilkinson posts Cook, goes middle and hits Mader, who is fouled by Smith on a dunk attempt. Mader hits both free throws to put the Illini deficit to 51-42 with 6:11 to go. Smith hits Cook on the high-low, and the Illini senior is fouled on the shot attempt. Cook misses the first free throw, fading away on that shot, but hits the second. Cook is 6-for-16 from the field, and Illinois trails 51-43. Smith has fouled out at 5:50, hacking a driving Owens. Smith really picked up the fouls in the second half, and Altenberger notes that he had a bad day at the office, though he did play a lot of minutes with Powell and Augustine in foul trouble. Owens hits both free throws to put Illinois down 53-43. Dee Brown silences the crowd with a tough three over Harris. Big-time guts on that shot, which cut the game to 53-46. Penney tracks down a missed Wilkinson shot but Illinois comes up with the loose ball. Augustine misses a lefty-hook in the lane and Harris gets the rebound over Cook. Penney is then fouled on a drive, as the Big Ten Network takes a break. Illinois is down 7 with a little more than 4 minutes to go. The foul was on Williams there.
Penney hits both free throws to put Illinois down 55-46 with 4:32 remaining. Brown misses a tough jumper, and Harris snatches the rebound. Owens gets caught in the lane and loses the ball. Illinois hits the streaking Brown for a layup and 55-48 game. Self calls a quick timeout. Brown is keeping the Illini in this game. OK. 55-48 Wisconsin with 3:46 to go. Harris misses a corner three and Powell grabs a tough rebound. Illinois pushes, and Brown hits a high-floating layup off the glass to cut the Badger lead to 55-50. Illinois goes with some 3-2 zone, and Wilkinson hits a major-league three (Coshun’s words, not mine) to put the Illini in a 58-50 hole. Powell scores a quick bucket as Self implores his team to keep fighting. Powell fouls Owens on a pull-up jumper with 2:03 to go. Powell has four fouls as the Illini trail 58-52 with 2:03 to go. Harrington comes in for Powell after Owens misses the first but hits the second free throw. Illinois trails 59-52 with 2:03 to go, as the delayed under-4 timeout is here.
The Wisconsin fans are tasting a Big Ten title, according to Altenberger. Dee Brown has been huge, with 18 points and 4 rebounds at this point. Cook hits a three with 1:54 to go off a pick and pop play with Brown. 59-55 Wisconsin. Onions right there by Cook, who stepped into that shot with great confidence. Owens loses the ball on the dribble, but Harrington is out of bounds as he dives to save the ball to an Illini teammate. Illinois with 10 fouls; Wisconsin with 8. Williams rebounds a missed Wilkinson three and is fouled by Owens with 1:11 to go. Shooting one and the bonus, Williams rushes and misses the front end. Harrington kicks a Wisconsin pass out of bounds with exactly 1 minute to go. Head comes in for Harrington. Brown taps away the Wisconsin inbound pass, tracks down the loose ball in the corner and hits a blazing layup to cut the Badger lead to 59-57. Ryan takes a timeout as the Illini are still alive, thanks to Dee and Cook. Just watching Dee compete in this game makes me wonder if Illinois will ever have another player like him.
There are 49.6 seconds left. Altenberger notes how the Badgers have gotten away from Penney, and need to get him the ball in the midst of this 7-1 Illinois run since the 2:37 mark. Illinois with Harrington, Brown, Williams, Cook and Augustine in the game. Tucker misses a running layup and Harris’ tip-in attempt rolls in and out. Brown snatches the rebound, races down court and has his shot blocked by Tucker, who fumbles the ball out of bounds while trying to call a timeout. Illinois takes a timeout, trailing 59-57 with 17.2 seconds left.
Illinois has not led since the 8:23 mark of the first half. Altenberger notes how the Illini should take a quick look if it’s there. The Illini go inside to Cook, who hits a nasty turnaround jumper to the baseline to tie the game at 59 with 9 seconds left. Harris races the ball up court and Wisconsin calls a timeout with 6 seconds left. What a senior season for Cook, who would average 20.0 points on the dot on 47.9% shooting. Quite simply, Cook would not have made that shot during his first two seasons, and maybe even as a junior.
Out of the break, Altenberger notes how Wisconsin should take the ball to the hole and force the action. Illinois comes out with Brown, Williams, Head, Cook and Augustine. Harris does exactly what Altenberger says, driving to the basket. It looks like Brown blocked his shot with no time left, but he actually fouled him on the left hand. A killer break for the Illini. The refs are now trying to adjust the clock, and will put 0. 4 seconds on the board, enough time for Illinois to get a shot off. That was a killer crossover by Harris.
At the line, Harris can give the Badgers its first outright Big Ten championship since 1947. His first free throw rattles around the rim and out. What a drama queen. Just joking. Harris predictably drains the second free throw. Harrington will inbound the ball full-court, but Self takes a timeout. Wisconsin leads 60-59 with 0.4 seconds. Altenberger hits it on the head: it’s unfortunate that someone has to lose this game.
Illinois needs to go the full-length of the floor with 0.4 seconds left. Alright. Harrington will inbound and throws a one-handed baseball pass to Cook, who makes the catch but can’t get the three off in time. It wouldn’t have mattered as the three was missed. The Wisconsin crowd storms the court, and Illinois loses a 60-59 heart breaker despite Cook and Brown going for 24 and 20 respectively. Self is unable to win a third Big Ten title in his third season at Illinois. Got to hate the Kohl Center.
What Both Teams Would Do the Rest of the Way
After winning the Big Ten regular season championship, the Badgers would bow out to Ohio State in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament. A 5-seed in the Midwest Region of the 2003 NCAA Tournament, the Badgers would knock off Weber State in the first round, beat 13-seed Tulsa on a last-second three by Boo Wade and then lose to Kentucky (the tournament’s #1 overall seed) in the Sweet Sixteen.
Illinois would rebound from the tough Wisconsin loss by crushing Minnesota in the Big Ten regular season finale and then rolling through Northwestern, Indiana and Ohio State en route to the school’s first ever conference tournament championship. Illinois would end up with a somewhat discouraging 4-seed in the West bracket, surviving a game Western Kentucky squad in the first round and then getting blown out by the 5-seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second round. That loss would be Cook’s final game in an Illini uniform and head coach Bill Self’s last game on the Illinois sidelines.
Well, that’s it for another Illini Basketball Classic.
Although the Illini fell in this game to Wisconsin, they played with a lot of heart, especially Cook and Brown.
For Illinois fans still upset by the loss, we’ll always have this great moment against Wisconsin, thanks to Marcus Griffin.
Topics: Alando Tucker, Badger Basketball, Bill Self, Bo Ryan, Boo Wade, Brian Cook, Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Freddie Owens, Illini Basketball, Illini Basketball Classics, Illinois Basketball, James Augustine, Kirk Penney, Luther Head, Marcus Griffin, Mike Wilkinson, Nick Smith, Sean Harringtion, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois, Wisconsin Badgers, Wisconsin Basketball