Tuesday , Feb , 28 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Still in the hunt, Illinois hits the road against Minnesota

(Sports Network) – Williams Arena is the site of tonight’s Big Ten clash
between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and 10th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.
Illinois is in a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten, and it
trails only 10-4 Ohio State by a single game. The Illini recorded a
thrilling 71-59 decision over Iowa on Saturday in the final home game for the
seniors, and the Hawkeyes are one of the other two second-place teams in the
league. Three of the last four outings for Illinois have resulted in
wins, and the club hopes to duplicate the success of last season when
it made a run to the National Championship game.

As for Minnesota, it owns a 5-9 league record, and only one team, Purdue,
possesses a worst mark in this final week of the regular season. The Golden
Gophers dropped an 80-74 decision to Wisconsin on Sunday, and they had won
four of their last five games prior to that setback. They are 12-4 at home
this season, much better than the 2-7 mark they have accumulated on the road.

Illinois has won the last 14 meetings with Minnesota and holds a 107-60 lead
in the all-time series between the teams. Earlier this season, the Illini
posted a 77-53 decision over the Golden Gophers.

Dee Brown and James Augustine have meant a great deal to the Illinois program,
and it was good to see the seniors enjoy a quality win over Iowa in their
final home game. Brown, one of the most exciting point guards in the nation,
is averaging 14.6 ppg this season to go along with 5.7 apg. While his numbers
are impressive, Brown is shooting a lackluster 36.8 percent from the floor and
has gone through a number of slumps this season. As for Augustine, he adds
13.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg to the mix, and he and Brown are tied for the team lead
with 41 steals. No other player is averaging double figures in scoring for
Illinois, which is netting 70.2 ppg, while limiting opponents to 57.4 ppg on
39.4 percent efficiency from the field. Rebounding is a major strength for the
Illini, as they are pulling down seven more rebounds per game than their foes.

In the thrilling win over Iowa, Rich McBride scored 15 big points to pace
Illinois. Brian Randle tallied 13 points, while Augustine netted 12 points. As
for Brown, he shot 2-of-12 from the floor and finished with only six points.
On a positive note, he did dish out nine assists against only one turnover.

Minnesota committed only nine turnovers in the game against Wisconsin on
Sunday, but a 29-10 deficit in points from the foul line proved costly. The
Golden Gophers lost the game despite finishing with 13 more field goal
attempts than their opponent. Leading the way in defeat was Vincent Grier, as
he tallied 19 points. The only other double-digit scorer for Minnesota was
Adam Boone, as he managed 18 points before fouling out.

Grier is the go-to guy at the offensive end for the squad, scoring 15.1 ppg
this season to go along with 6.4 rpg. Maurice Hargrow adds 11.5 ppg to the
mix, but he has scored double figures in only one of his last eight games.
Boone brings some balance to the lineup with his 10.4 ppg.