Illinois advances to Big Ten semifinals with victory over Michigan

John Supinie

Illinois senior guard Chester Frazier is no Kenyon Martin.

But as No. 2 Illinois blew past No. 7 Michigan 60-50 in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Illini wanted to prove a point: Even without Frazier, they can still win.

In 2000, Cincinnati fell from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2 in the NCAA field after Martin, the national player of the year, broke his leg late in the season. After Frazier's surgery Thursday to repair an injured right hand, the Illini made a statement before the NCAA committee gets busy filling out the bracket Saturday.

"It was one of our challenges and goals,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I didn't bring it up too much to the players. (Michigan) is a good team. They've beaten Duke and UCLA. If we can do it on a neutral court without probably our MVP and heart of our team, it shows a lot for our kids.

"We've got another challenge tomorrow, get to hang around a little bit, play another game and see if we can make progress.''

Considered a No. 5 seed by some bracketologists Friday, Illinois ended its first two-game losing streak and improved to 24-8. The Illini advanced to the semifinals for the 11th time in the 12 years of the conference tournament. They’ll meet No. 3 Purdue on Saturday, which won 79-65 over No. 6 Penn State on Friday.

"Without your senior leader, captain and best defensive player, that can definitely drop you a couple seeds,'' said Illinois forward Mike Davis, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. "We wanted to show we're not a one-man team.''

Senior guard Trent Meacham also scored nine of his 10 points in the second half, when Illinois made 11 of its first 13 shots and used a 13-0 run to build a 54-34 lead. Senior Calvin Brock filled the vacant starting spot and shut down Michigan star guard Manny Harris.

Frazier sat the bench and served as a cheerleader and coach, wearing a cast on his right hand after going through warmups. His streak of 49 games in the starting lineup ended, but Weber insisted that Frazier might play in the NCAA Tournament next week. Frazier even asked Weber to let him play against the Wolverines. At the very least, asked Frazier, start him and then call a quick timeout.

Weber wouldn't provide details about Frazier's injury during practice Wednesday or whether there is a broken bone, and he remains optimistic.

"Two years ago, Chester tore his MCL in the Big Ten Tournament,'' Weber said. "He played (in the NCAA). The doctors said it was probably physically impossible to do it. If it was any other kid, I would say no chance of somebody playing.

"Chester asked if he could do warmups and try to play. He's a little outside of the box sometimes. You guys have no idea what he's played through. We just move forward from there and hope we get him back. He's a tough critter.''

Frazier didn't sulk and found it hard to sit while serving as an extra coach.

"I went to his apartment Wednesday night,'' Meacham said. "He was talking about what we need to do. Everyone has to step up. He was a coach for us all season, and that just continued.''

An all-Big Ten defensive team member, Frazier saw Brock blanket Harris, a first-team all-conference pick who was 3-for-11 from the floor. When Michigan forward DeShawn Sims was 6-for-19, the Wolverines (20-13) had little chance to advance and add another entry to their NCAA resume.

"The first two games (against Michigan), I didn't guard him too much,'' Brock said. "I got caught in a transition on him a couple times. Coach and Chester told me to get into him, try to make him put the ball on the floor, not let him square up and shoot threes on me. That's what I tried to do, and I had plenty of help in defense from my teammates.''

Sims scored 15 points. Harris scored nine.

"Davis was terrific, and Bruce's game plan was terrific,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Their defense, in just a couple spans in the second half, was just too much for us to handle. We just really had trouble with the pressure they were putting on us, and we didn't respond.''

Without Frazier, the Illini had no trouble responding.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois report card

Front court: A

Mike Davis has made it known that he wants to make himself into a candidate for player of the year in the Big Ten next season. With his ability to hit big shots and rebound, he made it look easy against Michigan. Over the last five games, Davis has averaged 15.8 points while shooting 60.3 percent.

Back court: A

Starting in place of injured Chester Frazier, senior Calvin Brock shut down Michigan star guard Manny Harris. Although Brock scored only six points, he affected the outcome with his defense. Sounds a lot like what Frazier did all year. Guard Trent Meacham came up big in the second half.

Bench: B

While they didn't pile up the stats, the bench allowed Weber to rest his starters periodically. Weber normally has trouble gaining confidence with the bench, but that apparently wasn't the case Friday.

Overall: A

Concerned the NCAA selection committee might drop them a line or two because of the hand injury to Frazier, Illinois made a statement against a quality opponent the day before the committee gets really busy with the bracket. Illinois reached the semifinals for the 11th time in the tournament's 12 years. While Illinois probably doesn't have the depth to win the tournament, the Illini ended its first two-game losing streak and regained some momentum.

No. 2 Illinois (24-8) vs. No. 3 Purdue (23-9)

3:05 p.m., Conseco Fieldhouse (18,345), Indianapolis (CBS, Illini Radio Network)

ILLINOIS (24-8)   ppg     rpg

C Mike Tisdale So. 7-1 10.8 4.0

F Mike Davis So. 6-9 11.1 7.9

G Demetri McCamey So. 6-3 11.9 2.6

G Trent Meacham Sr. 6-2 9.9 2.4

G Calvin Brock Sr. 6-5 4.8 2.9

PURDUE (23-9)

F Robbie Hummel So 6-8 10.4 5.6

F JaJuan Johnson So. 6-10 13.8 6.7

G Chris Kramer Jr. 6-3  5.7 2.8

G Lewis Jackson Fr. 5-9 6.4 2.4

G E'Twaun Moore So. 6-4 13.7 4.9

(NOTE: Individual stats through March 12.)

Noteworthy: Illinois leads the Big Ten with 22 wins in the tournament. Against Penn State on Friday, Purdue scored its fifth win all-time in the 12 years of the tournament. It was also Purdue's first victory in the tournament in Conseco Fieldhouse. … Illinois swept two games from Purdue in the regular season for the first time in four years. Illinois defeated the Boilermakers 71-67 in overtime in the Big Ten opener and rolled to a 66-48 win in Champaign. Purdue forward Robbie Hummel had seven points in the first game while enduring back pain and didn't play in the second meeting.

Key for Illini: Another big defensive effort from Brock would help.

Key for Boilermakers: Hummel's back needs to handle back-to-back games.

Prediction: Purdue 62, Illinois 58