Tate: Pressure D again gives Illini boost

  ST. LOUIS  It''s really happening.

   Dr. Jekyll has become nasty old Mr. Hyde. He likes the beard and the fangs, and he isn''t changing back.

   In the course of two months and 12 games, Illinois has made the long-awaited transition to a thieving, marauding, full-court team.

   There may have been doubts when the Illini tore noncompetitve rivals like Chicago State and Coppin State with 90-plus outbursts.

   But when a Jerry Hester-less squad wins its two biggest neutral-court games by 16 points against UCLA and Missouri ... when UCLA commits 23 turnovers and the Tigers 27 ... when the 10-2 Illini are runaway Big Ten leaders in turnover margin with nearly plus-eight per game ... you have to acknowledge that UI coach Lon Kruger has set the correct master plan with this undersized club.

   Not only is the full-court game good for recruiting, it''s paying off with victories now.

   Saturday night''s 85-69 triumph at the Kiel Center turned in the UI''s favor specifically because harried Mizzou ball handlers fouled up against double-teaming UI pressure. These Tiger miscues shattered their confidence, sent coach Norm Stewart on a substitution binge and caused Illini confidence to grow like Pinnochio''s nose.

   Illinois didn''t have a field goal  and trailed 9-3  before Matt Heldman converted a steal into a layup with 4 1/2 minutes gone. Suddenly, the Illini came alive. Sparked by Chris Gandy''s runaway dunk, they led 16-11 within minutes as Tiger bobbles multiplied. Missouri never caught up, spending most of the night at a double-digit disadvantage.

   Just past the midway point in the half, Illinois led 24-18 with the previous three baskets all turnover-created layups by Kiwane Garris (his only first-half goal), Brian Johnson and Bryant Notree.

   Trailing 36-26 at the break, the Tigers gathered themselves and made their one serious move. But at 50-44, the Illini countered with Heldman and Garris, and carried an 18-point spread into the last nine minutes.

   Fans may have suspected an Illini victory after the way Iowa''s pressing Hawkeyes pounded Missouri (it was worse than the 88-77 final) but few expected the Tigers to disintegrate in this special contest in their own home state.

   Toward the end, Garris was in total control as he had a direct hand in the last five UI baskets, scoring two and feeding for the other three. His total of nine assists was the single most impressive individual statistic in an unusually balanced game that saw no one score 20 points and no one grab more than five rebounds.

   Oh, there was one other noteworthy figure. Illinois outscored Missouri 44-34 in the paint. But it wasn''t superior post play.

   It was the breakaways and fast breaks, sending Illinois into the paint on the dead run, many of those sorties stemming from those 27 Tiger turnovers, most by a Stewart team since they had 28 in a 92-77 win over George Washington last January.

Tate''s tidbits

    The UI''s Ron Guenther has complained about the three-way financial split with Missouri, Illinois and the Kiel Center (which receives somewhat less than one-third but keeps parking and concessions), noting: "Since we moved to this building, Missouri has a greater percentage of fans because of all hockey fans and others who purchased season tickets here and are guaranteed tickets for all events. I''m not thrilled with the arrangement." Illinois received 5,500 tickets, the rest of the 22,000-plus being sold in Columbia and at Kiel.

    Oops. When Lon Kruger was a player, Kansas State went 5-3 against Norm Stewart''s Tigers. That''s better than the previously released figure.

    Garris drew even with Andy Kaufmann at No. 4 on the all-time Illini scoring chart with 1,533 points. Next up in No. 3 is Mark Smith with 1,653.

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