It was rarely pretty looking, but the No. 7 Illinois Fighting Illini got a win over the No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes to move on to the third round in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois squandered a 16-point halftime lead and appeared to be on the ropes, but a furious second-half rally put them over the top.
Tom Fornelli at The Champaign Room did a nice job describing the wild roller-coaster for Illini fans:
Fools, we are. Fools who thought that a 16-point lead at halftime somehow meant that we were safe and well on our way to an easy victory and a date with Miami on Sunday. We forgot who this team is and how it operates.
The Illini would come out in the second half and just live up to every single stereotype about this team this season. All they did was jack up three after three after three after three after three after three after three after three and missed every single damned one of them. Suddenly it was the Illini that looked like the young team, the one without three seniors on the court, and they were panicking. Like a swimmer struggling against the current, they flailed and kicked harder only to be sucked out further from the beach.
But then a strange thing happened. Colorado couldn't maintain its 150% shooting percentage in the second half. The Buffaloes started to miss some shots, and then the Illini started to play defense again. Amazingly this led to the Illini playing better -- not good, better -- offense in the final ten minutes and disaster was averted.
I think I died nearly four times today, but the Illini won.
Now we have to do it all over again on Sunday.
Over at CU blog The Ralphie Report, Parker Baruh was disappointed at the Buffs' failure to close the deal:
The Buffaloes once again couldn't put forth a complete 40 minutes and lost to Illinois 57-49. Colorado trailed 37-21 at halftime and looked finished. They responded, however, with a 23-2 run and managed to take a 44-39 lead, but couldn't sustain their momentum. Ultimately, it wasn't the greatest performance from Colorado, but they didn't lay down in the second half and came close to pulling off a monumental victory.
As a team, Colorado was passive offensively in the latter parts of both halves. Instead of attacking the hoop, the Buffs settled and shot a poor 5-of-19 from behind the arc. They also were careless with the ball evident by their 15 turnovers.
Illinois will face the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes on Sunday.