ROSEMONT – Two teams who haven''t been to the Final Four since the 1980s figured they would make their return trips a little dramatic.
Both Illinois and Louisville, who will meet next weekend in the national semifinals at St. Louis'' Edward Jones Dome, needed improbable comebacks to force overtime and punch their tickets.
CBS play-by-play man Dick Enberg and analyst Jay Bilas were broadcasting their usual excellent game Saturday, making astute observations on the Illinois-Arizona matchup while passing out compliments and occasional criticism.
Then, something strange but inevitable happened. As the Big Aircraft Carrier in the Sky started working his Illini magic, Enberg and Bilas were not just neutral broadcasters but fascinated observers relating this miracle over ice.
Ben Newman struck Big Ten gold again.
The Illinois senior won a third conference title by sharing first place with teammate Ted Brown in pommel horse at Saturday''s Big Ten men''s gymnastics meet at Ann Arbor, Mich.
So, Illinois, you''ve survived four games in the NCAA tournament. Now what?
Road trip. The greatest one of your basketball life. To this mecca called the Final Four.
In a normal year, the first-year coach''s first spring practice would be front-page news. Ron Zook understands this isn''t a normal year.
Like most employees at Illinois, Zook has latched onto the school''s top-ranked basketball team. Thursday and Saturday night he was sit-ting courtside, one row behind funnyman Bill Murray.
Saturday''s win will go down in NCAA tournament lore. Where does it rank? Here''s our list of best games in the history of the tournament:
ROSEMONT – Roger Powell Jr.''s to-do list today – Easter Sunday – begins and ends with one task.
"Got to go to church, man," the Illinois senior said Saturday, still in semi-disbelief after Illinois'' 90-89 overtime victory against Arizona in the Chicago Regional final. "I''ve got praying to do.
ROSEMONT – The Flyin'' Illini are ready for some company.
It''s been 16 years since Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill & Co. took Illinois basketball fans on a memorable ride all the way to the Final Four in Seattle. That group was the first Illini team to reach the Final Four of the NCAA tournament since 1952.
Folks in Friday''s news conferences wondered if perhaps the stress of the moment was starting to get to Illinois players, who gave some exasperated looks and rolled their eyes at a few questions. But don''t buy it.