Things Swing Huskies' Way

Times Staff Writer

Dee Brown took a moment to commemorate his high-arcing three-pointer that beat the halftime buzzer Saturday afternoon at Cox Arena, leaping high in the air to chest-bump teammate Brian Randle.

The senior guard's basket had drawn Illinois to within a basket of Washington, and when the Fighting Illini opened the second half by scoring 14 of the first 16 points, it seemed as if a game of wild momentum swings was headed Illinois' way.

But after the Huskies fixed their leaky defense and went ahead in the final minutes, Illinois needed its excitable guard to make one more shot to send the game into overtime.

Another jubilant scene for Brown? Not this time.

Brown could only walk off the court with shoulders slumped after his last-second three-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim, allowing the fifth-seeded Huskies to pull off a 67-64 second-round victory over the fourth-seeded Illini in a Washington, D.C., Regional matchup.

"Man, I'm glad he didn't hit it," said Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar, whose Huskies advanced to a second consecutive Sweet 16. Washington (26-6) will meet the winner of today's game between top-seeded Connecticut and eighth-seeded Kentucky on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Brown said afterward that the Illini (26-7) were trying to work the ball into the hands of guard Jamar Smith on the last play, but Brown seemed like Illinois' best option even though he had missed 12 of his first 17 shots.

"If somebody's going to make a big shot, it's going to be him," Illinois Coach Bruce Weber said. "It looked halfway decent. He shot it well and it had a chance but it didn't go."

Midway through the second half it didn't seem as if the Illini would need a buzzer-beater to extend the Huskies. With forward James Augustine seemingly scoring at will, Illinois opened a 53-42 lead with 12:34 left.

But Augustine, who had scored 19 points on layups and easy baskets, would not score again as Washington forward Mike Jensen and his teammates applied a relentless series of double teams and collaborated to deny the big man the ball.

"We never back down to anybody," Husky forward Bobby Jones said. "I hope this game proved to everyone that we're not soft."

Washington clawed back from its second-half deficit with some inspired play by guards Brandon Roy (21 points) and Justin Dentmon (13) -- and a flurry of 21 free-throw attempts. By comparison, the Illini had two free-throw attempts over the final 20 minutes.

"You were there. You guys saw the game," a terse Weber said when asked about the discrepancy in free throws. "Write what you saw."

Dentmon, a freshman from Carbondale, Ill., who was lightly recruited by the Illini, converted a four-point play with 4:12 left to pull Washington to within 60-58 after making a three-pointer and getting knocked to the floor by Smith.

"He's just not afraid," Roy said of his teammate. "It's a late-game situation and the kid wants the ball. He stepped up big-time."

After the Huskies took a 64-62 lead with 59 seconds remaining on two free throws by Jones, Washington forward Jamaal Williams intercepted a pass and Illinois had to foul Dentmon, who made two more free throws to make it 66-62 with 21 seconds left.

A pair of free throws by Brown with 16 seconds remaining pulled the Illini to within 66-64, but Jones drew another foul and rolled in the first free throw to make it 67-64.

Illinois had one last chance to tie the score after Jones missed his second attempt. Weber called a timeout to set up a play for Smith, but Washington's defenders made the appropriate switches on a series of screens, leaving the Illini's fate in the hands of Brown.

"If he made it," Jones said, "kudos to him."

Said Weber: "You can't get a better look than that at the end."

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