CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (Ticker) -- With numerous members of Illinois' last Final Four team in the stands, Deron Williams made his pitch for a trip to St. Louis.
Williams scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half and Roger Powell Jr. netted 21 as top-ranked Illinois cruised to an 89-66 victory over Minnesota in a Big Ten Conference matchup.
With former coach Lou Henson and many of the Fighting Illini's past players - including the 1988-89 Final Four club - on hand to celebrate the school's 100 years of basketball, Williams helped Illinois (21-0, 7-0 Big Ten) tie its longest conference winning streak at 17 games. The streak first was accomplished between 1914-16.
"Now we can make it really special and keep this thing going," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We can have the best team and maybe some of those old guys don't want to hear it, but we could have the best team of all-time if we keep going the way we are going."
At halftime, former coaches Harv Schmidt, Gene Bartow and Henson were honored. Henson, who has suffered from health problems the past few years, recently retired from coaching his alma mater, New Mexico State.
"It was great coach Henson came back," Weber said. "We took care of business and now can enjoy the weekend. What an unbelievable ceremony. I have been part of reunions and like I told the guys, it would be great if everyone stays and truly enjoys the 100 years of Illinois basketball."
The junior guard, who is known for his passing rather than his stroke, scored four points as the Illini began the game with a 14-4 run in the first five minutes. After feeding James Augustine for a layup that made it 20-10 with 12:55 left, Williams buried consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead to 14 points.
"The last few games, he has struggled and some people have asked me, 'Why isn't he even looking at the hoop?'" Weber said. "He made a couple of shots, felt good about himself and then he looked for the baskets. That is the best he has played offensively, as far as shooting the basketball, in a while."
Williams finished the first half with three 3-pointers, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor, and Powell scored nine points as Illinois opened a 47-26 cushion. The Illini shot 60 percent (18-of-30) from the floor and made seven 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
In the second half, Vincent Grier scored six points within the first seven-plus minutes as Minnesota cut its deficit to 60-44. But Williams answered with his fourth 3-pointer and Powell had a three-point play and a layup for a 24-point lead with 10:28 remaining.
Williams finished 4-of-5 from the arc and handed out six assists. Augustine scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Luther Head added 10 for Illinois, which defeated Minnesota for the 11th straight time.
Grier scored 17 points and Jeff Hagen chipped in 10 for the Golden Gophers (14-6, 4-3), who shot 38 percent (24-of-63) and have not won here since 1978.