Illinois comes up short 75-70

Regardless of the sport, a really good team can overcome everything—its opponent, playing away from home and even the officiating, whatever happens.

Illinois couldn’t do any April 4—although the Illini came back from 13 points down (40-27) at the half and 15 down after the intermission to tie it at 70 in the closing minutes. But Illinois lost the NCAA championship game to North Carolina 75-70, going cold on 3-pointers in the last 2.5 minutes when the Illini could have tied or even gone ahead.

Thus, Illinois finished with a 37-2 mark, its best record in 100 years of playing basketball. Duke in 1986 and 1999 and Nevada-Las Vegas in 1987 are the only other schools to win 37 games in a season.

Carolina coach Roy Williams got his first national title after two misses, in 1991 and 2003 when he was at Kansas. Illinois was in its first title game while the Tar Heels won their third national crown.

It no doubt sounds like crying over the loss, but consider these facts:

Sean May, who scored 26 points on his 21st birthday to lead Carolina, was whistled for only one foul. The son of Scott May, who played on Indiana’s unbeaten 1976 national title team, is very large—6-foot-9 and 266 pounds.

And he pretty much got away with banging and bulling his way to the basket at will. Illinois’ big men inside, James Augustine and Jack Ingram, who spelled Augustine when he got in foul trouble, were whistled nine times between them.

Augustine fouled out (he played nine minutes), a couple of the calls being of the pity-pat variety, and Ingram finished with four as did Deron Williams. Illinois was whistled 18 times, Carolina 13 times.

How May, with his banging style of play, could be whistled only once remains a mystery on a par with who killed Cock Robin, or some other fairy tale.

Illinois fans had good reason to boo the officiating when Roger Powell Jr. was mugged not once but twice during one first-half under-the-basket exchange. And boo just as loudly when May barged through and over Illinois players to score when he should have been called for charging.

It’s OK for the refs to let ‘em play as long as the whistle blows both ways. But May and his style with one foul while two Illinois big men had nine?

Despite that, the really good teams find a way to overcome everything, and Illinois didn’t do that. The Illini did it 37 other times, but not when it counted the most.

From the April 6-12, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!