Phil Pash's Simply Sports: 27-0 Illinois home to 'Cats

That glittering record is 27-0, 13-0 in the Big Ten, and top-ranked Illinois has only one game this week, tonight (Feb. 23) at home against state rival Northwestern.

The Fighting Illini beat the Wildcats 78-66 in their first meeting Jan. 15 in Evanston. After tonight, only a March 1 date at home vs. Purdue and a March 5 game at Ohio State will remain in the regular season.

Then it will be the Big Ten tourney March 10-13 at Chicago’s United Center and the start of the NCAA tourney the third weekend in March—dates, sites and opponents to be determined. But the Illini should be a No. 1 seed, probably No. 1 overall.

Illinois should be happy to return to the House of Orange tonight after two tough road games last week. The Illini won at Iowa 75-65 Feb. 19 and at Penn State 83-63 Feb. 16. They were playing both teams for the second time. Iowa took Illinois to overtime before losing 73-68 at Champaign Jan. 20; the Illini handled Penn State 90-64 at Champaign Jan. 12.

Iowa made a game of it thanks to Illinois foul problems and an off day by the Illini’s leading scorer, Luther Head. The Hawkeyes trailed by just two points with 4 1/2 minutes left before a 14-5 Illinois run settled the issue.

Deron Williams and Dee Brown each scored 18 points as the Illini won their 23rd straight Big Ten game and 14th consecutive on the road in the best start in 100 years of Illinois basketball. James Augustine added 13 points while Head, averaging 16.9, managed just 7 on 1-for-7 shooting. Every Illinois starter had at least three fouls, and forward Roger Powell Jr., who was whistled four times, was limited to 15 minutes.

Against Penn State, Powell went 10-for-10 from the field and scored 21 points, Brown added 19 and Head had 16.

“They’re so unselfish, that’s how basketball should look,” Penn State guard Mike Walker said.

Home-standing Rockford Boylan beat Rockford Jefferson 69-56 Feb. 19 to clinch at least a tie for the NIC-9 boys’ basketball title, the 18th during Titan head coach Steve Goers’ tenure.

The win was the 800th in Boylan basketball history, reported the local daily. It upped Boylan to 19-4, 13-1 in the NIC-9 while Jefferson is 16-7, 11-3. It also avenged Boylan’s lone conference loss on Jan. 14 at Jefferson. The J-Hawks and Hononegah shared the crown last year.

The next possible meeting between Jefferson and Boylan would be March 11 for the sectional title at Rock Valley College.

J-Hawk forward Robert Eppinger, the NIC-9’s leading scorer with a 17.8-point average, was held to 8 points in the first three quarters by Boylan’s Ryan Woods. Eppinger finished with 16.

The IHSA Class A boys’ basketball playoffs started this week while Class AA begins the week of Feb. 28. Both state finals will be in Peoria, Class A March 11-12 and AA March 18-19.

Byron (26-2) and Sterling Newman (24-5) were scheduled to play Feb. 21 in the Rock Valley College Supersectional for the right to advance to the IHSA Class A girls’ state basketball tourney Feb. 25-26 at Illinois State University, Normal.

Bryon got its ticket to the “super” with a 61-55 overtime victory over Poplar Grove North Boone (26-3, two losses to Byron) in the championship game of the Stillman Valley sectional Feb. 17. Newman rallied in the second half to topple Lena-Winslow 34-29 in the Oregon sectional title game.

In Class AA girls’, NIC-9 champ Rockton Hononegah (25-6) won the Belvidere regional by beating Belvidere 55-48 Feb. 17. Hononegah beat Belvidere twice during the regular season, including a one-point thriller. Belvidere finished 23-5. The Indians were to play Rock Island in the Rochelle sectional Feb. 21. Rock Island advanced with a 59-42 victory over Geneseo Darnell at Rock Island.

The other Rochelle sectional game was to pit Moline against Freeport (18-11), which beat Rockford Boylan for the third time this season 46-40 to win at Rockford Auburn. Moline won the DeKalb regional, beating DeKalb 52-24 to advance.

The Rochelle sectional champ advances to the NIU Supersectional at DeKalb Feb. 28 vs. the St. Charles East sectional champ. The “super” winner goes to the state finals March 4-5 at Illinois State, Normal.

Playing at St. Charles were: Bartlett, a 69-48 winner over Roselle Lake Park in the Bartlett regional; St. Charles East, which won the St. Charles North regional by beating Elgin Larkin 59-49; Algonquin Jacobs, the Huntley regional winner via a 62-57 win over Carpentersville Dundee-Crown; and Johnsburg, a 42-39 winner over Cary Grove at Cary Grove.

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