Simply Sports: Weber brothers rule Illinois basketball

You can argue if you want, but the Weber boys pretty much rule Illinois basketball.

Bruce Weber coaches Illinois (34-1), which, after visiting in Indiana last week, returns to the Land of Lincoln this week to face upstart UW-Milwaukee (26-5) March 24 in Allstate Arena, Rosemont, in the Fighting Illini’s quest for the NCAA title.

David Weber, Bruce’s brother, reached his goal March 19 when his Northbrook Glenbrook North team beat Carbondale 63-51 for the state IHSA Class AA boys’ title.

That win came just hours after brother Bruce and the top-ranked Illini advanced to the regional semifinals with a 71-59 win over Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I watched Bruce today, and I thought his team looked really sharp,” David was quoted as saying by Associated Press. “I was thinking we need to play the same way, and we came out with the same intensity.”

After the Illini win, Bruce might have been thinking how much he would like to land David’s first-team all-stater Jon Scheyer, who finished the prep tourney with 134 points in four games, nine shy of the Class AA record set by Marcus Liberty of Chicago King in 1987.

Scheyer is only a junior, so he might get another shot at it. He is being sought by many, but is considering Illinois, Duke, Arizona and Wisconsin.

Scheyer said the Northbrook team made a pledge to win the title for Weber after his mother died. “We wanted to stick to that. It was a total team effort,” said Scheyer. Glenbrook North wore black patches on their jerseys for the third straight game after the death of Dawn Weber, the mother of the Glenbrook North and Illini coaches.

Illinois looked more like its old self in the win over Nevada, but again was sluggish in beating Fairleigh Dickinson in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, only 120 miles from home. Illinois lost its final regular-season game at Ohio State and appeared sluggish, in a fog, through the Big Ten tournament.

James Augustine was huge for the Illini, scoring a career-high 23 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and finishing with four blocks and two steals against Nevada (25-7). Guards Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head combined for 31 points, but most came late in the game.

Williams finished with 15 points, five on free throws down the stretch, and 10 assists. Head had 14 and Brown, who left the floor in the first half because of a cramp, scored only two points but had four rebounds and five assists.

The Illini also got 12 inside points from Jack Ingram and five more from Roger Powell Jr. as they shot 53 percent. It was the first time they made more than half their shots since a win over Purdue Feb. 23.

Weber said his team got a lift from the thousands of orange-clad fans in the RCA Dome crowd of 40,331, a sub-regional site record. “The crowd was so great, it was almost like playing in Assembly Hall,” he said. “Once we got the run, everything started clicking.”

The victory also gave Illinois the most wins by a Big Ten team, breaking the mark it shared for two days with Michigan State, which went 33-5 in 1999.

Fairleigh Dickinson (20-13) made Illinois work. The Knights came from seven down to take a brief lead in the first half, but the Illini started the second half with a 14-2 run on their way to a 67-55 win March 17. Brown scored 19 points, and Head added 13 to lead Illinois. Augustine grabbed 15 rebounds to go with 11 points.

The Illini are in the regional semifinals for the second straight season and the fourth time in the last five. UW-Milwaukee is Bruce Weber’s alma mater.

“I told our kids, it’s not Duke,” said Weber, “but you’ve got to understand, they beat Boston College and Alabama, so they must be a pretty good ball club.

“It’s not going to be easy. They’re going to play free and loose. We’re going to have to have a good week of practice and understand how tough it is to get by the next opponent.”

Arizona and Oklahoma State are in the other Rosemont game March 24, to face the Illinois-Milwaukee winner March 26 for a Final Four spot in St. Louis April 2 and 4.

The other three No. 1 seeds—Washington, Duke and North Carolina—also made it into the Sweet Sixteen. Wisconsin and Michigan State of the Big Ten also are still alive. Wisconsin next will face North Carolina State while Michigan State battles Duke.

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