Ill. rides defense to 64-51 win With S. Alabama down, Terps next up for Illini

Arizona, Ill. State gain

West at Sacramento

March 13, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Illinois' hustle and patience were too much for South Alabama yesterday, but the Illini will face an entirely different kind of challenge against Maryland in the second round of the West Regional tomorrow.

There were no surprises forthcoming this time from the Jaguars, who couldn't overcome their bobbleitis and a key injury in falling, 64-51, at ARCO Arena.

South Alabama (21-7) extended top-ranked Arizona to the limit in the first round last March, but Illinois' patience, stout defense and seasoning were insurmountable.

"Maryland is big and physical and has beaten some good clubs," said Illini coach Lon Kruger. "We're looking forward to that challenge."

Illinois (23-9) will undoubtedly have to play at a speedier tempo than yesterday, when its thinness on the bench and susceptibility to foul trouble was not a factor.

The five Illini seniors -- with some help from freshman Sergio McClain -- forced the Jaguars into 20 turnovers, 14 in the second half, and collected 13 steals.

"We do create some problems down low," Jarrod Gee said. "Sergio is great at that; he gets his hands on a lot of balls."

"We just made too many mistakes," said Jaguars coach Bob Weltlich. "We didn't handle the ball in the post as we normally do. We fumbled it away. It gets back to fatigue. We don't have very much depth. We kind of ran out of gas. We just got tired, and when you get tired you make mistakes."

Also, he said, "They're as good a defensive team as we've played all year long."

"It was a game of defensive will. We played hard, but they played better," South Alabama forward Jason Hamm said. "They came out real aggressive on us. They picked us up from 50 feet and didn't stop."

It didn't help that Jaguars guard Jerome Coaxum could hardly function on a bad ankle and "couldn't make cuts. They just left and totally ignored me."

Coaxum was scoreless for the first time all season and Toby Madison, who was forced to the point, had to work overtime for his 14 shots and 19 points.

The 22nd-ranked Illini gave South Alabama nothing easy in a moderately paced game that broke open in the final nine minutes, when the turnovers piled up on the Jaguars.

"We just had to work too hard to score," said Weltlich.

"Our guys hung in there and stayed patient," said Kruger. "We created some offense from our defense at a time we weren't really in rhythm offensively."

"Early on, we tried to make some big plays, maybe break it open. But they're a solid defensive team and that wasn't going to happen," Illinois forward Brian Johnson said. "We just had to wait to pick our spots."

Illinois has not played Maryland since the Sweet 16 round of 1984, when it beat the Terps, 72-70.

Arizona 99, Nicholls State 60: Arizona, the defending national champion still playing with a chip on its shoulder, took a 25-point halftime lead and coasted to the victory.

Miles Simon scored 24 points and Mike Bibby had 19 for the Wildcats, who had all five starters in double figures by early in the second half.

A.J. Bramlett added 16 points, Michael Dickerson 17 and Bennett Davison 12 for the Wildcats, who led by as many as 42 points late in the game.

Arizona (28-4) will now play Illinois State, which beat Tennessee in overtime, 82-81.

Russell McCutcheon had 21 points for Nicholls State (19-10). His younger brother, Jason, added 14 points and eight rebounds.

Despite winning the NCAA title last year, the Wildcats feel they still don't get enough respect.

Simon lashed out Wednesday at some observers who picked Maryland or Cincinnati, and not Arizona, to capture the West Regional title.

And coach Lute Olson bristled when asked about the Wildcats' first-round losses in three of the last six NCAA tournaments.

So Arizona played against Nicholls State like a team with much to prove. The Wildcats dived for loose balls and pushed the ball up the court so hard that Simon had to ask for a rest midway through the first half.

Illinois State 82, Tennessee 81, OT: Dan Muller wormed inside for layup with 1.8 seconds left in overtime to give the Redbirds the victory over Tennessee in a hard-gought, fast-paced game.

When Tennessee's Vegas Davis missed a desperation shot at the buzzer, Muller turned and bellowed to celebrate the victory in a draining game that seesawed throughout the second half and overtime.

Illinois State, led by Rico Hill's 22 points, LeRoy Watkins' 18 and Steve Hansell's 16, trailed most of the first half, but patiently worked back to a 66-57 lead in the second half.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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