The Illinois press was something Ball State had not seen before, and it proved to be the undoing of the Cardinals. The Illini simply had too much height and quickness for them and, as a result, their 16-game winning streak ended.
Forward Nick Anderson scored 24 points as Illinois, forcing repeated early turnovers with a smothering full-court press, beat Ball State, 72-60, Saturday at Indianapolis and advanced to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. regional semifinals for the first time since 1985.
“Going into the game, I thought it was important to get off to a good start,” Coach Lou Henson said after the Illini improved to 29-4 and earned a spot in the Midwest Regional at Minneapolis. “Our defense was clicking early. We did everything right the first five minutes.”
The Illini, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest, hit their first six shots and 10 of their first 11, steadily pulling away from Ball State after the opening minutes of the second-round game at the Hoosier Dome.
Getting beaten in part by the press was unusual for Ball State, because defense is what carried the Cardinals into the tournament with the best record among the 64 teams.
Ball State (29-3) had 12 of its 17 turnovers in the first half, eight of which came on Illinois steals. Four more Cardinal errors in the first four minutes of the second half helped the Illini take the first of three 15-point leads, their biggest of the game.
“What our press tries to do is bother the other team, make it hard for them to get it down the court,” said Illinois guard Kendall Gill, who had 17 points, seven assists and five steals. “Sometimes that (the press) motivates us.”
Anderson, only the fourth player to score 20 points or more against Ball State this season, was supported by Lowell Hamilton with 19 points.
Curtis Kidd had 16 points and nine rebounds, and Paris McCurdy added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Cardinals.
“I can’t tell you how much they took us out of everything we tried to do,” Ball State Coach Rick Majerus said.
“To a certain extent, there were some guys who didn’t want to handle the ball against their press, and I can’t say I blame them.”
Said Ball State guard Billy Butts, who averaged a little more than two turnovers a game going in but committed seven against Louisville: “The press took a lot out of us. We were rattled at the start of the game because of the press.”
Louisville 93, Arkansas 84--Kenny Payne led the Cardinals on a 12-0 run that turned a four-point lead into a 16-point bulge early in the second half and keyed the win.
Pervis Ellison scored 21 points, 17 in the first half, and LaBradford Smith contributed 25 for Louisville.
Payne, on the bench in foul trouble for most of the first half, scored eight points in the 12-0 surge. He played just three minutes and scored only two points in the first half.
But he had four baskets during the run, and Ellison had another. Felton Spencer ended it with 13:31 left and Louisville ahead, 64-48.
Moments later, baskets by Spencer and Ellison gave Louisville its biggest lead, 68-50.
Todd Day, who led Arkansas (25-7) with 20 points, then started a 10-2 Arkansas spurt that left the Razorbacks trailing, 81-75, after two Oliver Miller free throws with 4:53 to play.
They had three more chances to pull closer. Mario Credit missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4:25 to go. Arkansas turned the ball over on a fast break on its next possession, and Day then missed a three-point try before Louisville put together a six-point run.
Louisville (24-8) is seeking its fifth Final Four trip and its third championship of this decade.