IOWA CITY, Iowa – This orange thing is spreading.
First, it swept Champaign-Urbana. Now the color is taking its show on the road.
It was on the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as Illinois, decked out in its orange uniforms, rocked Iowa 78-59.
And it spread to the stands, with more than 100 members of the Orange Krush, Illinois'' student support group, sitting together and cheering on the Illini.
"That''s great that they showed us so much support," Illinois guard Dee Brown said. "That just shows you how great it is to be playing for Illinois."
Just before tipoff, the 110 Krush members who made the trip on two charter buses stripped off black T-shirts to reveal the orange ones underneath.
And throughout the game, they made their presence known, taunting their silent Iowa counterparts in the student section below with a chant of "We can''t hear you!"
Early in the first half, they greeted Iowa coach Steve Alford, chanting "We love Alford!" with 110 tongues tucked in cheek.
It was Alford''s criticism of the Krush when Iowa visited Champaign last month that put the student group in the spotlight. During that game, Illinois students chanted "No means no" at Iowa''s Pierre Pierce, who sat out last season after pleading guilty to assault with injury in an incident involving a woman.
That cheer led to an e-mailed reprimand from Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, Krush members said Wednesday.
But that couldn''t dampen its spirits, and the Krush lifted Illinois'' prior to the game.
"We saw them outside," Illinois guard Deron Williams said. "We were on the bus and they had on those black shirts and they lifted them up."
The orange shirts underneath weren''t the only splash of the color at Carver-Hawkweye. Illinois wore its orange uniforms for the fourth straight game, all of them wins.
"You know the first time you lose in the orange, people are going to say, ''They''re wearing ''em too much,'' " Brown said. "But we like the orange."
Illinois had planned to wear blue uniforms if Iowa sported its home yellows. But Iowa confirmed on Tuesday it would wear white, paving the way for the Illini to wear orange.
Weber joked the Hawkeyes might be kicking themselves, then quickly made clear his team''s turnaround is more than tailor-made.
"I don''t think it has anything to do with colors and uniforms," Weber said. "It has to do with attitudes and mental focus and all that stuff, which we''ve made big progress with."
Back on track
Going into Wednesday, Rich McBride had made one three-pointer in his last 10 games. The freshman guard had twice that many in the first half against Iowa.
McBride hit his first with 8:12 left. His second, a 25-footer, came at the end of the half and gave the Illini an 11-point lead.
"That was huge," Weber said. "Second half, we wanted to play him some more, but the other three guys were playing so well. When I take them out, they actually get mad."
McBride hadn''t been real happy with his play in the recent games. After scoring 51 points in a five-game midseason stretch, including 22 against Memphis, he had 14 points in the next 11.
"I felt pretty good coming into this game," McBride said. "My confidence level had been soaring a little bit over the past couple of practices. I came into the game feeling good about myself and hit a couple of shots."
His teammates have seen the improvement.
"Rich is getting his confidence back," Illini guard Luther Head said. "There''s no telling how many threes he''ll be knocking down in the future."
In Tuesday''s practice, Weber got after McBride about his defense. Nothing new, McBride said.
"He stresses defense is the most important thing," McBride said.
In practice, McBride''s shots are falling. The games have been different.
"He never misses (in practice)," Head said. "When it comes to the games, he''s nervous a little bit."
Head remembers the feeling from his freshman year.
"Same thing, no confidence," Head said. "When you touched the ball, you were afraid to take the shot. There were a lot of jitters in your stomach."
Big men on campus
They took some heat after Saturday''s 14-point performance at Penn State. The Illinois forwards and centers weren''t about to hear it two games in a row.
James Augustine, Nick Smith, Roger Powell and Jack Ingram combined for 25 points against Iowa. They also had four blocked shots.
"The biggest thing was we got some easy baskets," Smith said. "I got three or four easy looks. James got a couple dunks, and Roger played real well. As a whole, we just got better shots than we''ve been getting."
Weber wasn''t happy with the performance against the Nittany Lions and let the big guys know it.
"Coach challenged us a little bit since the Penn State game," Ingram said. "He wanted to see how we''d respond. I think we did a good job. The guards kept it going."
Illinois guards Brown and Williams opened the inside by hitting 5 of 10 three-pointers.
"Since they''ve gotten hot, we''ve been deferring to them," Ingram said. "Coach told us when they get hot, we need to want it even more because it''s going to be open."
Wednesday''s loss badly damaged Iowa''s hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes wanted to sweep their final four games, giving them a six-game winning streak going into the Big Ten tournament.
Instead, they face must-wins against Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue. The latter two are on the road.
"It''s just a little bump in the hill right now," Pierce said. "It''s something we can''t dwell on too much. We''ve got to take this loss, hopefully come out Saturday with a lot more passion and enthusiasm than we did tonight."
That was missing against the Illini, Pierce said.
"They wanted it more than we wanted it," Pierce said.
"They came in on our home floor and beat us by 20 points tonight. That''s an embarrassment to us, and that''s something we can''t let happen at home."
n Streak''s alive. For the fourth consecutive game, Head hit double figures. The junior had 16 points, nailing 6 of 9 shots.
"Today, I don''t know if I had too much energy or something, but the ball was always going too long," Head said. "I''m sure when I settle down, it will come back."
Plane and simple
Illinois'' departure for Iowa City on Tuesday night was delayed for better than two hours when its chartered plane was late arriving to Willard Airport.
The Illini took advantage of their down time to check out another jet, a swank private plane owned by Bill Gates, who spoke at the UI on Tuesday. Security wouldn''t allow Illinois players or staff to look inside, but manager Matt McCumber said players were told the jet probably was worth about $31 million.
With a private tour out of the question, the Illini got a chance to watch Michigan State rally to beat Michigan 72-69 in Ann Arbor.
Illinois players rooted for the Wolverines, who with a win could have given the Illini an opportunity to claim an outright Big Ten title.
"Michigan State had a big road win, and we had to come out (against Iowa)and get a big road win, too, just to let them know we''re still fighting for thesame thing they''re fighting for," Brown said.