UI awaits NCAA orders after loss to Purdue

UI awaits NCAA orders after loss to Purdue

   WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.  If you expected sulks, scowls and sobs after Saturday''s 77-69 loss to Purdue, you had it all wrong.

   It''s Selection Sunday. Anyone seen Kiwane Garris'' sunblock?

   "I just hope they send us somewhere warm," the happy-to-be-alive Illinois point guard said with a smile Saturday. "I''d get a sunburn in Tucson. Charlotte would be nice, though."

   Today at 5:30 p.m., the Illini will gather together in the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration Building, pull up a few chairs close to the big-screen TV and watch the most entertaining half-hour in television  the NCAA tournament selection show.

   Kevin Turner''s bringing the party hats.

   "After last year, I''m just happy to be going somewhere," the Illinois guard said. "It''s going to be a lot of fun."

   There was no need for any of the Illini to tune in to last year''s show. What was Selection Sunday for five other Big Ten teams was Rejection Sunday for the Illini, who had the reverse of this year''s conference record, 11-7.

   Garris hopped in his truck and headed home for the weekend, not even bothering to watch the CBS special. Instead, he went to see his old Westinghouse Warriors beat Farragut in the Chicago Public League title game.

   It was either that, or sit around all night waiting for the dreaded call from the National Invitation Tournament.

   "Selection Sunday''s always an exciting day," said Illinois coach Lon Kruger, who''s gotten good news six times in the last 10 years. "We''re as happy as Purdue is to know we''re going someplace, and anxious to find out where that will be."

   The first-round options: Tucson, Ariz.; Charlotte, N.C.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Pittsburgh, Pa.

   "I just want to go somewhere I can wear shorts," Illinois forward Bryant Notree said.

   It''s absolutely, positively impossible to predict who Illinois will play, where Illinois will play or when Illinois will play.

   Even Illinois'' seed  which many thought could be a No. 4 before loss No. 2 of 1997 to Purdue  is uncertain.

   "I think a 4 would be pretty optimistic," Kruger said. "Certainly, if we were on the borderline, this wouldn''t help."

   Take it from Purdue coach Gene Keady, who knows a thing or two about NCAA tournament upsets: it''s not the seed that matters.

   "We''ve been seeded first, what, three times?" said Keady, 0-for-the-Final Four in 17 Boilermaker seasons. "Never did much with it. Parity''s so good in college basketball, I don''t think seeding''s much of a factor anymore. We barely beat Western Carolina last year when we were seeded No. 1."

   "There''s probably more balance this year from No. 15 in the country to No. 35 in the country," said Kruger, who isn''t in the seed-predicting business. "That''s a little bit unusual."

   Rather than rumble into the postseason, the 21-7, 15th-ranked Illini will jog in. A close call Wednesday night at home against Ohio State followed by their first loss at Purdue in three years is not exactly the preferred way to mosey into March Madness.

   Illinois slid two spots down the Big Ten ladder, landing in fourth place aside Wisconsin.

   "This is a Big Ten road game we would have liked to have gotten, but you''re really killing yourself if you sit and dwell on it," Illinois forward Brian Johnson said. "We''re looking to next Thursday, Friday."

   "Practices will be spirited everywhere Monday," Kruger said.

   Probably even in West Lafayette, where the Boilermakers won''t be walking around in anxiety ridden dazes. They''re in  or so they think  at 17-11 overall, 12-6 in the conference (second place), with season sweeps of Indiana and Illinois.

   "Hopefully, second in the Big Ten, they won''t leave us out," Keady said. "We''re just thrilled to be a part of it, hopefully."

   The Boilermakers played like a team that needed Saturday''s game to reach NCAA tournament No. 5 in a row. An 18-4 second-half run by Illinois that tied it at 53 didn''t faze them a bit. Back they charged with a 10-0 run of their own against an Illini lineup that was missing Big Ten scoring leader Garris (four fouls).

   "We needed it more," Purdue forward Gary McQuay said. "Illinois, they didn''t need this. They''re in the tournament for sure."

   "Lon probably won''t agree with this and I''m not saying it''s true, but if we would have been in their position at 21-8, I''m not sure how ready we would have been because it looks like we''re in," Keady said.

   Nice try.

   "It wasn''t a case of us not thinking this isn''t an important ballgame," Kruger said. "We approached this like it was a very important ballgame and Purdue outplayed us."

   The juniors made sure the Boilermakers didn''t lose to Illinois at a sold-out Mackey Arena for the fifth time in six tries. Brad Miller and Chad Austin combined for 50 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.

   Turner scored a UI-high 23 points, one shy of his career high. Garris added 15, Notree 13.