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Updated: Thursday, December 23, 2004 12:19 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(1) Illinois 70, Missouri 64

ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Behind the stellar play of its guards, Illinois matched its best start in 15 seasons.

Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams combined for 50 points as top-ranked Illinois jumped out early and withstood several rallies for a 70-64 victory against Missouri in the "Braggin' Rights" game.

Off to its best start since the 1989-90 campaign, Illinois (11-0) opened a 38-23 halftime lead when the trio combined for 24 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Head sparked a 21-10 run to close the half with 12 points.

Missouri (6-5), which rallied from a 31-16 halftime deficit to upend Indiana, 56-53, on Sunday, came out strong in the second half, but Illinois had an answer for each run. Jason Horton capped an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 43-35 with 12:10 left before Williams scored on a layup.

The Tigers cut the deficit to 52-46 on two free throws by Jason Conley before Roger Powell answered with a 3-pointer and Head scored on a layup to push the lead back to 11 with just under four minutes remaining. Prior to Powell's 3-pointer, the guards were the only players to score for Illinois over a 16-minute span.

"Things didn't go easy for us, but at the same time we made plays when it counted," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We settled down and made enough plays to win the game."

"Sometimes it just comes down to making plays at the end. We weren't able to make enough plays," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "The thing that really stood out in the game to me was their (Illinois guards) ability to pass the ball. It just puts a lot of pressure on your defense."

Williams put an end to any Missouri hopes by hitting a jump shot from 18 feet and converting seven free throws in the last 3:11.

"It was an ugly win, but you know we'll take it," Williams said. "We knew we were in for a battle. A lot of people wanted a blow out, but we knew how much this game means to both teams. We expected the game to go down to the wire."

Head scored 20, Williams 19 and Brown 11. Powell added 12 on 4-of-5 shooting for Illinois, which had won its first 10 games by double digits. By leading wire-to-wire, Illinois has now led for nearly 419 of a possible 440 minutes this season.

"I'd love to keep winning by 20," Williams said. "There's nothing wrong with that, but we had to play with a little pressure, a little adversity. I guess it's a good learning experience - we learned that we could win a tight ball game."

The Fighting Illini, who lead the nation in shooting at 53.4 percent, shot just 42 percent (22-of-52) in this one, including 5-of-19 from the arc.

Linas Kleiza scored 25 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 11-of-13 from the line. But after scoring the Tigers' first eight points in the first seven minutes of the game, he went nearly 12 minutes without a point as the Fighting Illini pulled away.

"Coach Q (Snyder) was talking about driving and getting to the line, letting the officials make the call," Kleiza said. "In the second half I really decided, because I felt like I could go by these guys and get to the paint and get a foul or get a shot for my team."

Illinois has won five straight in this series, which it leads, 23-12.


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