SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- The more players Illinois lost, the more Frank Williams stepped up his game.
Williams had career-high 30 points and six rebounds as Illinois advanced to the "Elite Eight" of the NCAA Tournament with an 80-64 victory over Kansas in a Midwest Region game at the Alamodome.
With starters Marcus Griffin and Brian Cook and key reserve Damir Krupalija having fouled out, Williams, a sophomore from Peoria, Illinois, lifted the top-seeded Fighting Illini (26-8) into Sunday's regional final against Arizona.
Although it never appeared Illinois was on the verge of blowing a 12-point halftime advantage, Nick Collison scored nine straight points for the Jayhawks (26-7), cutting the deficit to 62-57 with just over five minutes remaining.
But Williams drilled the game's key shot, a 3-pointer that all but ended Kansas' comeback hopes. The Jayhawks, in the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1997, got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
"It all comes down to my teammates," said Williams. "Those guys give me confidence to go out there and gamble and make plays. Without them we wouldn't be as far as we are right now." The teams combined for 49 fouls and 61 free throws.
"The referees for the most part put their influence on my play today," said Griffin, who had just two points in 16 minutes. "I'm a senior, I should have been able to play through that. But other players on the team picked it up." Williams, whose 30 points are the best by an Illinois player in the NCAA Tournament, added an acrobatic tip-in with 2:09 left to give the Illini a 68-59 advantage.
"He's a phenomenal guard," said Illinois coach Bill Self. "He doesn't get the credit on the national scene, but to me he's as good as there is out there. He can dominate without scoring. But tonight we needed him to score and he just stepped up and made big play after big play." Illinois will play in a regional final for the first time since reaching the Final Four in 1989. Sunday's encounter will be its third with second-seeded Arizona this season.
"Obviously we expect a physical game because we have seen it in the past with them (Arizona)," said Illinois reserve Lucas Johnson.
While it is the first trip to the "Elite Eight" for the Fighting Illini in over decade, Self has attained the lofty status for the second straight season. He took Tulsa to the regional finals in 2000 before falling to North Carolina.
The Illinois reserves outscored their Jayhawks counterparts, 28-3, and the Fighting Illini forced 20 turnovers while shooting 43 percent (28-of-65), including 6-of-26 from beyond the 3-point line.
"If it wasn't for our bench, we wouldn't have won the game today," added Griffin.
Collison scored 23 points for Kansas but was the main culprit on a miserable night at the foul line for the Jayhawks, who scored the game's first four points before letting Illinois take control with an 11-0 run.
Kansas, which connected on 46 percent (21-of-46) of its field goal attempts, was just 18-of-35 at the foul line. Collison was 6-of-14 at the stripe and missed four consecutive attempts down the stretch while the Jayhawks were trying to crawl back.
Illinois also held a 45-30 advantage on the boards behind Sergio McClain's 10 rebounds.
"I think two or three of the biggest factors was the rebounding and we turned the basketball over," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "I think their physical size and the work they did on the defensive end made us play less than perfect on the offensive end. They played better than we played." "I don't think their depth really affected us, it was just the way the game went," Collison said.
After falling behind 11-4, Kansas slowly began to find its game and was within 23-21 following a reverse layup by Kirk Hinrich with 5 1/2 minutes to play before halftime.
But the Illini responded with a 14-2 run, including a pair of 3-pointers by Williams, to go on top, 37-23, on two free throws by Johnson with 2:43 remaining in the opening half. Illinois held a 41-29 advantage at intermisson.
"We were somehow in the game," said Kansas forward Kenny Gregory. "We were playing awful at times. We had chances in the second half when we cut the lead down the they just made plays. We had our chances, we just couldn't get stops when we really needed them." .