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Semifinal breakdown (cont.)

Posted: Thursday March 31, 2005 5:08PM; Updated: Thursday March 31, 2005 5:08PM
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Shooting Guard

Illinois' Luther Head
Sr., 6-3, 185
Stats: 15.7 points, 3.9 rebounds

While Brown and Williams get most of the pub, Head has been the Illini's top scorer. A deadly outside shooter who has good moves to the basket, Head can do it all. He has been on the top of his game this season. His battle with Garcia is the best individual matchup of this game and will go a long way toward determining the outcome. Head must keep his, well, head and stay out of foul trouble against the larger Garcia.

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Louisville's Francisco Garcia
Jr., 6-7, 190
Stats: 16.0 points, 3.9 assists

Louisville's heart and soul, Garcia is a streaky outside shooter who can heat up in a hurry. He is capable of playing the point, and when the Cardinals need a basket they put the ball in Garcia's hands. Improved off the dribble, Garcia should have opportunities to take Head to the hole and post him up.

EDGE: EVEN

Small Forward

Illinois' Roger Powell Jr.
Sr., 6-6, 235
Stats: 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds

Powell is tough around the basket and has an efficient mid-range jumper. Though he's not the focal point of the offense, he is scrappy and finds a way to get involved. He will need to be a space-eater inside and plug up the lane. Powell's experience will help against the talented, but raw, Juan Palacios.

Louisville's Juan Palacios
Fr., 6-8, 245
Stats: 10.0 points, 6.6 rebounds

Palacios has really come alive, especially on the glass, and coach Rick Pitino has compared him to a young Jamal Mashburn. He is athletic and capable of scoring if needed. But in this game, he must bear down inside and that is easier said than done against Powell.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

Power Forward

Illinois' James Augustine
Jr., 6-10, 230
Stats: 10.4 points, 7.6 rebounds

Illinois' lone question mark this season has been its inside game. While Augustine isn't your classic, back-to-the-basket post player, he has come through at times and has a nifty jump hook. He needs to be tough on the boards and opportunistic when presented with chances inside. That won't be easy against the smaller -- but quicker and tougher -- Myles.

Louisville's Ellis Myles
Sr., 6-7, 245
Stats: 10.2 points, 9.3 rebounds

Myles has been a beast on the boards and is a warrior in the paint. Undersized, he makes up for it with grit and desire. His quickness and athleticism allows him to get putbacks and easy baskets inside, and if he's able to continue against Illinois, Louisville will have a huge advantage.

EDGE: LOUISVILLE

Bench

Illinois

While Illinois doesn't rely on its reserves for a lot of points, the trio of 7-2 Nick Smith, 6-10 Jack Ingram and 6-9 Warren Carter give the Illini much-needed inside help. Weber will use them judiciously and they must avoid needless fouls. Guard Rich McBride comes in to spell Brown and Williams for valuable minutes and is a decent outside shooter. The Illini won't win the game here, but they won't lose it in this area either.

Louisville

The Cardinals aren't as deep here as coach Pitino would like -- one reason they don't press and run as much as Pitino's past teams -- but they have a pair of players off the bench who can score and give the team a lift. Senior forward Otis George (5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) gives Louisville more muscle inside, while sophomore guard Brandon Jenkins (47.4 percent from the field) isn't afraid to take the big shot and started seven games when Dean was out with mono.

EDGE: LOUISVILLE

Coaching

Illinois' Bruce Weber has done an excellent job of pushing all the right buttons this season. Illinois is by far the best team this season because it plays together and doesn't have any egos. A decent Xs and Os guy, Weber has coached in pressure situations before, but he hasn't been forced to make major adjustments on the fly. He'll be tested against Pitino, one of the best tacticians in the game. But like he has done all season, Weber will have the Illini well-prepared and ready to play.

In a era full of outstanding coaches, there's no better than Louisville's Pitino. The Cardinals are the third team (after Providence and Kentucky) he has taken to the Final Four. Pitino excels when the stakes are the highest. He loves to run-and-gun, but isn't afraid to sit back in a zone and play a halfcourt game. Louisville may have to switch strategies against Illinois. In a tight game, there's no coach you'd rather have on the bench than the Armani-clad Pitino.

EDGE: LOUISVILLE

THE PICK: ILLINOIS 78, LOUISVILLE 72


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