CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Bill Self has coached his share of
college standouts. Byron Houston. Richard Dumas. Frank Williams.
The Illinois coach would take Brian Cook over all of them.
In fact, he'd take Cook over any player in college basketball
right now after the senior scored 24 of his 31 points in the second
half and Illinois (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) beat Wisconsin 69-63 on Saturday.
"I don't think that there's a better all-around player than
Brian,'' Self said. "I haven't seen them all and I don't want to
jinx him, but I certainly think that he's as good as there is.
"He's become the best player that I've ever coached.''
Cook was hands down the best player against Wisconsin.
Benched for much of the first half after picking up two early
fouls, Cook scored on a dunk to open the second half and later
scored 15 straight points for the Illini (12-1, 2-0 Big Ten) as
they built a 14-point lead. Cook also helped Illinois hold the
Badgers (10-4, 0-2) to just five points over the first 9:22 of the
"He's unbelievable,'' Illinois freshman James Augustine said.
"He was in some foul trouble, but coming back in the second half,
we know he's our man so we go to him all the time.''
The Illini looked like they were going to run away with the game
but Wisconsin's Kirk Penney hit a handful of big shots late and
Illinois missed several free throws over the last minute.
Penney made consecutive jumpers to cut the lead to 10 and later
made consecutive 3-pointers to make it 62-53.
It didn't take Cook long to answer.
On the Illini's next possession Cook responded with a 3-pointer
from the top of the key to give Illinois a 12-point lead. He was
12-of-19 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and
had eight rebounds in just 26 minutes.
"I had sat on the bench long enough, and I just thought I'd
come out and play a little bit more aggressive,'' he said. "It's
always hard sitting out at the beginning of the game as long as I
did. I just kept my mind into it and came out in the second half
and tried to play as hard as I could.''
The Illini missed three straight free throws down the stretch to
make it close at the end. A layup by Penney with under a minute to
go brought the Badgers within 65-59, but Cook made two free throws
to seal the win.
Cook scored 24 of Illinois' 33 second-half points.
Illinois led 36-30 at halftime despite playing much of it
without Cook, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Cook committed his
second foul with 10:29 to go in the first half and the score tied
at 19 and spent the rest of the half on the bench.
Even without Cook, Illinois outplayed Wisconsin.
Illinois trailed by three when it went on an 8-0 run behind a
layup and spinning jumper from Augustine to take a 30-25 lead. The
6-foot-10 center also hit a 3-pointer from the right corner at the
buzzer to give him 13 points in the first half, bettering his
previous career high of 12. He was 6-of-6 in the first half.
Augustine finished with 17 points.
"As long as James is being aggressive, he's hard to stop,''
Cook said. "He's quick for a big man. He can pretty much get
around every big man that he plays.''
Illinois has won nine straight in the Big Ten dating to last
season, its longest streak since 1988-89.
Penney was 8-for-20 from the field but had 18 points and 12
rebounds for Wisconsin. He also had four turnovers.
"Sometimes making plays, things look open and the guys are a
litter quicker than he anticipates,'' Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
"When quick guys go after him he really struggles.''
Illinois was playing in front of dozens of ex-players who were
attending a basketball reunion, including former NBA player Kenny
Battle and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.
Colangelo, captain of the 1962 Illini basketball team, presented
the school with a $1.25 million endowment for scholarships and also
threw his support behind coach Bill Self's plea for a new arena to
replace aging Assembly Hall.
"I certainly would like to see that happen,'' he said. "It
doesn't take long for buildings to become out of date. You can look
at this building and see that it's served its purpose.''
Self, responding to the comment after the game, took things a
bit further and joked that Colangelo could help make it happen.
"I think Colangelo Arena sounds good,'' he said. "I have no
problem with that. Call it Jerry's House.''
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