The Illinois Fighting Illini came into this game expecting a fight. It would turn out to be one they completely dominated. Bruce Weber's Illini got off strong, taking a lopsided 46-24 halftime lead on UNLV and never really relinquishing it. In the most important game of the year, Illinois had perhaps its most impressive game of the year.
UNLV's defense had managed to upend Wisconsin very early in the season. But against Mike Davis, who had perhaps his best performance all season long, that UNLV defense stood almost no chance. Davis finished with 22 points and a team-best 9 rebounds, along with 5 assists.
Illinois set the tone of the game early with a 15-0 run in the first half. Thanks to 63% Illini shooting for the first half and a scoreless streak by UNLV that lasted almost 7 minutes, the Illini built up a huge halftime lead. Illinois helped itself secure a win by shooting 53% from outside (7 of 13) and 59% from the floor overall (28 of 47). Davis had 8 of Illinois's 10 made free throws. That was one of the few areas where the Fighting Illini struggled against the Running Rebels; as they went 10 of 14 from the stripe.
For the Illini, Mike Davis had 22 points and 9 rebounds, both team-highs, along with 5 assists. Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole were relatively ineffective on offense (combining for 10 points, 8 of which were Tisdale's), leaving it up to Brandon Paul and Demetri McCamey to pick up the slack. Paul hauled in 8 rebounds and 10 points, and McCamey scored 17 and recorded a team-best 7 assists. However, McCamey was too generous with the basketball, committing 6 turnovers by himself.
UNLV, however, couldn't take advantage. Oscar Bellfield's 14 points led the team, and while Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanbeck pitched in 13 points each, UNLV struggled mightily from the floor. The Running Rebels forced 24 threes and just seven fell. And when UNLV went on long scoring droughts, Illinois made them pay for it. Tre'Von Willis had 4 assists, which was a team-best, but UNLV had just 10 assists on the night and 9 turnovers. Despite 8 steals, the Running Rebels were blown out early.
Illinois faces Kansas next. Can they make the Jayhawks sweat nearly as much as the last time they played a Big Ten opponent (Michigan)?