Illinois was no stranger to blowouts in 2005. The Illini, led by one of the nation's premier backcourts, were 35-1 when they faced Arizona in the Elite Eight. Thirty of those wins had come by double digits. So when the scoreboard read 77-63 with just 3:20 to play, the surprise wasn't that the game's outcome appeared sealed -- it was that Illinois was on the losing end.
The Illini didn't take kindly to surprises, however. All-American guards Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown put their team's national title hopes on their backs to deliver one of the most memorable comebacks in NCAA Tournament history.
The rally began with 3:19 to go when Head peeled behind a screen to drain a long three. A Brown put-back trimmed the lead to single digits. Williams cut through Arizona's defense to create baskets in the paint or open looks for his teammates as the Wildcats' lead continued to evaporate. Then, Williams' sidestep three-pointer with 38 seconds to go tied the game at 80-all. In all, Illinois' guards scored their team's final 20 points of regulation.
Bruce Weber's team rolled that momentum into a six-point advantage with 1:45 remaining in overtime. The Wildcats battled back to cut that lead to one, but Hassan Adams' final three-pointer caromed off the backboard as time expired to send Illinois to their first Final Four in 16 years. Williams, Head, and Brown would power their squad all the way to the national championship game after routing Louisville, but Illinois eventually fell to No. 2 North Carolina. Even without a ring, delivering one of the most exciting comebacks the big dance has ever seen makes the Illini trio Heroes of March.