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Updated: Sunday, March 16, 2003 10:05 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL PREVIEW
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Ohio St (17-13) vs No. 13 Illinois (23-6)
OHIO ST. BUCKEYES
Ohio St. Buckeyes
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ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Illinois Fighting Illini
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CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Ohio State can finish an unlikely repeat as Big Ten tournament champions and earn an equally unlikely berth in the NCAA Tournament when it faces No. 13 Illinois at the United Center.

Ohio State (17-13) advanced with a 55-54 victory over Michigan State in the semifinals on Saturday. Seldom-used freshman Charles Bass banked in a free throw with six seconds left to snap a tie after the Buckeyes blew a 29-17 halftime lead and did not have a basket in the final eight minutes.

Brent Darby scored 23 points, including an 11-of-13 performance at the line. Darby is not ready to look ahead to next week at this point.

"We don't want to think about the NCAA Tournament," Darby said. "We are just going one game at a time and concentrating on the next game."

Last season, Ohio State posted an 81-64 victory over defending champion Iowa to win the title.

Illinois (23-6) has yet to win a Big Ten tournament, losing in the final in 1999 and 2000. The Fighting Illini held on for a 73-72 semifinal victory over Indiana.

Big Ten Player of the Year Brian Cook scored 25 points and Luther Head added 16 as Illinois built a 16-point halftime lead before almost giving all of it away. The Fighting Illini won despite a sub-par performance by freshman guard Dee Brown, who had six points and seven assists.

Illinois ended a three-game skid against Ohio State with a 76-57 victory in the only meeting between the teams on February 9. Cook scored 22 points as the Fighting Illini nailed 12 3-pointers.

Darby netted 20 points despite 6-of-21 shooting.

"In our previous game, we had a big lead and they cut into it," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "A lot of it was because we couldn't contain Brent Darby. He's great at getting to the line once he gets his shoulders past you."

The Illini are set to make their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of the outcome.


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