INDIANAPOLIS - When you play a team as talented offensively as Illinois, you have to pick your poison in terms of what you want to stop and what you are willing to give up.
In this case, Nevada focused its defense on stopping Illinois' trio of guards - Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams - from shooting three-pointers.
The trio only went 2 for 9 from beyond the arc, but their ability to penetrate opened things for big men James Augustine and Jack Ingram, and the duo made Nevada pay big time.
Augustine scored a career-high 23 points and Ingram scored a season-best 12 to lead No. 1 Illinois to a 71-59 win over the Wolf Pack Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the RCA Dome.
Nevada finished the season 25-7, and Illinois improved to 34-1. The Illini move on to play University of Wisconson-Milwaukee next week in the Sweet 16.
"Illinois has five offensive weapons on the court, and you have to give up something," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "We felt like the best chance we had to win was to take away the three-point line. He (Augustine) made more shots. He was open and he's a good player. We chose to give him those shots and take away the three-point line."
"It's tournament time, and I've been playing well lately," Augustine said. "The ball just kind of bounced my way. Fazekas and Pinkney are their bigs, and we wanted to attack them. Jack (Ingram) had 12 points in 20 minutes. That's a huge contribution in a game like this."
Fox thought this was a game Nevada could win, and he was right. What he didn't count on was a 5 for 20 shooting effort by Nick Fazekas (11 points), going 10 minutes without a score in the second half and the scoring of the Illini big men.
Fazekas has had only one good shooting game since he started wearing the mask five games ago (8 for 13 against San Jose State), and in that span was 25 for 70, well below his 52 percent season average.
"Nick Fazekas shot two free throws," Fox said. "He's got to get to the free throw line more. Nick can score in the block and shoot the three. That's why his numbers were so good. I'm not disappointed. He's a great player."
The scoring drought started after Kevinn Pinkney, who ended his Nevada career with 22 points and 11 rebounds, getting a putback to slice Illinois' lead to 38-31. Nevada didn't score another basket until Fazekas' layup with 8:55 left in the game. When the smoke cleared, Nevada found itself trailing 61-40 with 8:28 left in the game.
Augustine threw down a dunk and layup, Ingram hit twice from outside and Luther Head (14 points) led an 8-0 run with two baskets and two free throws. Illinois hit 8 of its first 10 shots from the field to open the second half.
"We had Nevada out chasing, and once we settled down offensively in the second half and took care of the ball a little bit, we got some better shots and were able to extend our lead, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I thought Nevada in the first half played better defense than we saw on film. In the second half, we got more spread and got some good looks."
Some of that was created by Illini point guard Deron Williams, who scored 15 and dished out 10 assists.
"I just tried to get my teammates in position to score," Williams said. "Our big guys were knocking down shots, so I tried to get them the ball."
The good looks stopped when Nevada went to a 2-3 zone for the last 8 1/2 minutes of the contest. After a goaltending call on Fazekas at the six-minute mark, the Illini didn't have a field goal the remainder of the game.
"The zone created some problems, because it's not something we usually do," Charlo said. "I think it got them out of their rhythm."
"We went to a zone because Jermaine Washington was injured in the first half and we ran out of gas," Fox said. "I couldn't subsitute and match up."
Nevada stormed back with a 15-2 run in a 6 1/2-minute span, cutting the lead to 63-54, quieting the noisy pro-Illinois crowd. Pinkney knocked down two free throws to start the surge, Fazekas added one from the foul line and Ramon Sessions scored his only basket of the game on a pull-up jump shot at the 6:38 mark to make it 61-45.
After the goaltending call, Nevada went on a 9-0 run, as Mo Charlo (12 points) scored on a lean-in from the key, a free throw and a putback.
Nevada was forced to foul down the stretch, and Illinois knocked down 8 of 10 to finish off the Pack, who hung in gamely. Nevada went 16 of 25 from the line, missing eight of those in the second half.
"We played hard and battled to the end," Charlo said, his voice shaking a bit. "We lost by 11 (actually 12) and we missed 11 free throws (actually nine). We didn't play our best."
And, Nevada needed to play the game of its life to knock off the top-ranked Illini.
Darrell Moody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281