CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Illinois had a home game taken away by some wrestlers and had to wrestle away a tougher than expected victory against Northwestern.
Brian Cook scored five straight points during a key stretch of the second half to rescue the sluggish 15th-ranked Fighting Illini from its upset-minded Big Ten Conference rival with a 73-61 victory at the United Center.
Illinois was forced to move the game upstate from Champaign due to a high school wrestling tournament. The Fighting Illini improved to 18-6 at the United Center despite an inspired performance by the underdog Wildcats.
Illinois (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) led from the opening tap, but Northwestern (10-14, 2-11) got within 59-55 when Jitim Young drove unmolested to the basket for an easy layup with 5:55 left. But the Wildcats failed to have a basket over the next 3:28 and Cook took over.
Cook made a 12-foot jump shot near the baseline with 4:32 left, then converted a three-point play just over a minute later to open up a 64-55 lead. Illinois' lead did not slip below eight points the rest of the way.
"We just need to keep on stepping on our opponents," Cook said. "We're not doing that for the whole game. For about seven minutes a game, we're not doing it."
Cook scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half as Illinois notched its seventh consecutive win over its in-state rival. Roger Powell led Illinois with a career-high 20 points and freshman Dee Brown added 18.
Jason Burke, who finally snapped Northwestern's scoring drought with a driving layup with 2:27 left, led the Wildcats with 15 points. Aaron Jennings and freshman T.J. Parker each chipped in 13 for Northwestern, which has lost 34 of the last 37 meetings in the series.
"It was good to come back and show on national television that we can play and hang with good, ranked teams," Parker said.
Illinois had a 43-33 lead at halftime after shooting 74 percent (17-of-23) from the field in the first 20 minutes. The Illini shot 39 percent (11-of-28) after the intermission to hold on.
"We played well early," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "We made just about everything we looked at, then the law of averages prevailed. We missed some, they made some. But we played really well early. We didn't play bad late. Northwestern just played good."
Self notched his 200th career victory.
Northwestern shot 48 percent (12-of-25) in the second half, but just 11 percent (1-of-9) from 3-point range.
The game's solid shooting performances led to low rebounding totals as Illinois owned a 32-24 advantage on the glass. Cook had 10 rebounds to lead the Illini, while Jennings had seven for the Wildcats.
"Illinois is a well-balanced team," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "They play hard, and they came up with the big plays when they had to."