The biggest single reason why Illinois lost – lack of playing time for James Augustine.
Augustine picked up five fouls in nine minutes of action. If he gets his usual 27 minutes (or his 33 minute average in five tourney games), the Illini have a better defender for Sean May, Illinois gets more than six trips to the free throw line, and shoots fewer than 40 threes.
The only time a team shot fewer free throws in the championship game was Dartmouth in 1944!! It was also the most threes shot in finals history. But considering there have only been 19 championship games played with a three-point line, that doesn’t put the feat in proper perspective. It was the fourth-most threes shot in any tournament contest – a total of 1,202 games. Luther Head shot 16 threes on his own, equaling the UNC team attempts and breaking the individual finals record by three.
On the other hand, the disappearance of Augustine forced the Illini guard trio of Williams, Head, and Brown to monopolize the basketball. This benefited Illinois in that they went 19 minutes in the second half without turning the ball over. A nightmare scenario for UNC which led to Illinois scoring nearly 1.5 points per possession in the second half (43 points/29 possessions), even while only making 7 of 21 three-point attempts.
9:14 into the second half, Illinois had already exceeded its first half point total, and Augustine was only on the floor for two possessions during that time. Made buckets during that time in sequence: Head, Brown, Head, Williams, Head, Head, Williams, Williams, Powell, Williams, Powell. The rest of the half wasn’t any different, with only a couple of Jack Ingram hoops coming from outside of the three guards. For the second half, that’s 43 points, 35 by the guards.
Amazingly, the last 10:46 was played to a plodding 15-15 tie. UNC sustained itself at the line, with only two field goals by my count in the final ten minutes.
The second half was simply one of the best halves of college basketball you’ll ever see. Hardly any errors, just awesome hoops on both ends. Illinois with the crisp perimeter passing, UNC with the attack-the-middle philosophy. Both teams making plays, sometimes on offense, sometimes on defense. In the final minute, when it looked like a finish for the ages was in store, I got a glimpse of the difference between myself and Billy Packer:
My thoughts: While common wisdom is that college basketball has suffered in recent years because of early defections to the NBA, this action proves that the game is alive and well.
Meanwhile Packer does his best John Chaney impression, mentioning how the officials don’t call illegal screens anymore…not once, but on three separate occasions in the final minute. Vintage Packer.
Finally, did anyone see the graphic CBS posted before the tip – the one that listed the previous times the pre-tournament #1 and #2 met in the finals? It listed ’75 UCLA/Kentucky as the most recent occurrence, just as I did last Saturday. But that’s totally wrong. I provided more details in my previous post.