TULSA, Okla. – Mike Davis and Illinois pulled out of their late-season swoon just in time for the NCAA tournament.
Davis tied his season high with 22 points, Demetri McCamey added 17 points and seven assists and Illinois dominated UNLV 73-62 Friday night to set up another meeting between Fighting Illini coaches past and present in the Southwest region of the NCAA tournament.
The ninth-seeded Illini (20-13) took control with an early 15-0 run and led by as many as 25 in a surprisingly easy rout, after losing 10 of their previous 16 games to bring into question whether they’d even make it onto the 68-team bracket.
Bruce Weber’s squad led by double digits throughout the second half against eighth-seeded UNLV (24-9), with former Illini coach Lon Kruger in charge. Next up for Illinois is a Sunday night clash against No. 1 seed Kansas and Weber’s predecessor, Bill Self.
Oscar Bellfield scored 14 to lead the Runnin’ Rebels, who lost for just the second time in their last eight games. Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall added 13 points apiece.
Illinois was ranked as high as No. 12 at midseason but faded with a series of late-game failures. That wasn’t an issue this time.
The Illini were on from the start, handling UNLV’s in-your-face defense with ease and building a 23-point lead while shooting 63 percent in the first half. The Runnin’ Rebels went scoreless for a span of nearly 7 minutes in the first half, allowing a string of 15 consecutive points by Illinois.
McCamey ran the show, setting up his teammates early and then getting to the basket himself. He started the Illini’s big run with back-to-back layups and finished it off with a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 29-12 with 6:51 left before halftime.
Mike Tisdale answered UNLV’s only basket — Anthony Marshall’s driving layup that resulted in a three-point play — with a highlight-reel throwdown of Brandon Paul’s alley-oop and Illinois kept rolling.
McCamey provided the finishing touches with another 3-pointer that dropped in at the halftime buzzer, putting Illinois up 46-24, and then leaped into a teammate before heading to the locker room.
UNLV got within 61-45 on Stanback’s jumper with 8 minutes left, but D.J. Richardson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then a layup to bump the lead back to 22.
It was the second time in the last three games the Illini were so dominant in the first half. They also rushed out to a 46-21 halftime lead against Indiana on senior day in Champaign. But in between, they squandered a 12-point lead in the final 8 1/2 minutes against Michigan at the Big Ten tournament to provide a fresh reminder of a season-long quandary heading into the NCAAs.
Instead, they continued another trend — moving to 15-0 this season when McCamey has at least seven assists.
The next task is to make it out of the opening weekend for the first time since losing to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship game. And it won’t be an easy one against the Jayhawks, who have lost twice all season.
Copyright © 2011 Associated Press
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