Illinois gets hot from the 3-point line, then holds off Gonzaga with some defense.

 

There was no college basketball team any hotter than No. 20 Illinois during the 73-61 win over Gonzaga in the Battle in Seattle at KeyArena Saturday afternoon.

During one stretch, the Illini were 11-for-13 from the 3-point line. They came from everywhere -- and nearly everyone. Center Mike Tisdale, who won the team's 3-point contest at the orange and blue scrimmage, drained three of them.

Guard Brandon Paul drilled the last two of the first half. Guards Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson combined for four. Forward Bill Cole hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.

"I've not seen a team shoot like that,'' said McCamey.

Eventually, Illinois had to cool off, and when the Illini did, they won the game with some defense.

Imagine that.

"They're taking some pride in it,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Down the stretch, we had to stop them. Even Demetri said it. If we stop them, they can't win.

"We're definitely much better than a year ago. It was embarrassing when we watched the film (from last year's game). I don't think they realized how bad it was. We got enough stops to where the clock was going to run out and we were going to get the game.''

A year ago, Illinois rallied from 21 down against Gonzaga, took the lead, then couldn't stop the Bulldogs down the stretch in an overtime loss in the United Center. By rolling past North Carolina Tuesday and whipping Gonzaga on its home turf, Illinois improved to 8-1 overall.

In an arena nestled between Puget Sound and the Space Needle in Illinois' first appearance in the city since the Flyin' Illini came back to Earth in the Final Four in 1989, these Illini likely earned some legitimacy with a good 1-2 that made it a good week.

"It even has a nice touch to it when North Carolina beat Kentucky today,'' Weber said. "It's a long way to go. Win or lose, it's a long season. The big thing is to keep making improvement. The guys are starting to feel good about themselves.

"We took on some challenges (in scheduling). We got a nice mark on our resume. Gonzaga will win a bunch of games.''

Weber compared the week to playing Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games. That might be a stretch, but this game was more of a challenge for the Illini than playing Carolina at home.

Even though Carolina and Gonzaga had fallen out of the AP Top 25, "On Selection Sunday, this will be a huge win for us,'' Illinois forward Mike Davis said.

"These two wins showed we're a good team,'' McCamey said.

Richardson scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. He also hounded Gonzaga guard Steven Gray, who entered with a 21.7-point average. Gray finished with 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting.

"The last two days, I told coach I wanted to guard him,'' Richardson said. "It's a man's game. If we play our principles, we were going to win.''

After Illinois built a 67-47 lead with 9 minutes 27 seconds left, Gonzaga pulled within 10 points. Then Illinois held Gonzaga scoreless for 5 minutes.

While Illinois is building a defensive philosophy, these Illini can also heat up. They showed that last season. Tisdale scored 15 points, including 3-for-5 shooting from the 3-point line. He didn't make a field goal inside the 3-point line, but he played to his strengths as one of the Illini's best shooters.

"I didn't have any 2-point field goals, but what can you do,'' Tisdale said. "They had some big guys down in the paint. We pulled them out, used ball screens.''

Gonzaga (4-3) didn't execute when Illinois screened for Tisdale, said coach Mark Few.

The hot shooting run "was the game,'' Few said. "We knew coming in that there aren't many teams from one through five who can shoot from three like that. They got on a roll, and we didn't adjust.''

Gonzaga star Elias Harris, slowed by nagging Achilles and shoulder injuries, scored 10 of his 12 in the first half after not starting. Gonzaga center Robert Sacre scored 15 points, but the Bulldogs didn't have the depth or balance to stick with the Illinois.

The Illini had five in double figures. Paul finished with 12 points, McCamey had 11 points and seven assists, and Davis put up 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks. They survived with McCamey on the bench for the final 5:28 in the first half with two fouls. Paul made two 3-pointers to end the first half, then the Illini went 9-for-11 from the arc to start the second half.

"I've not seen a team shoot like that,'' McCamey said.

But the Illini earned the win with a save from their defense.

Illinois report card Front court -- A- Illinois didn't bring a rough-and-tumble style expected from the Big Ten, but Illinois center Mike Tisdale showed his real strength. He can shoot the ball. Forward Mike Davis was the only starter who didn't make a 3-pointer. His rebound dunk was a highlight.   Back court -- A Illinois shot the ball well and kept Steven Gray from going off. The Illini also held it together while playing without Demetri McCamey late in the first half.   Bench -- B- Senior Bill Cole had eight points, including 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. Otherwise, there was little productivity from a shortened bench.   Overall -- A After back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga -- two unranked but solid teams -- Illinois continued a strong run in non-conference play. Illinois is 3-1 in high profile games. The next big one comes against Missouri on Dec. 22.