Archive for Sunday, December 19, 1999

KRUGER SAVORS WIN OVER KU

December 19, 1999

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— You can take Lon Kruger out of Kansas, but you can't take Kansas out of Lon Kruger.

Or, more specifically, you can't take Kansas State out of Kruger, the former Wildcat player, assistant coach and head coach now in his fourth year at the helm at Illinois.

Kruger's 20th-ranked Illini held No. 8 Kansas to 35.2-percent field-goal shooting in an 84-70 rout of the Jayhawks on Saturday at United Center.

Darned right the Wildcat in Kruger came out.

"There's always something about beating Kansas the people of Silver Lake enjoy," said Kruger, a Silver Lake native. "That rivalry's still there, but you like it because it means you beat a good basketball team."

That was anything but a sure thing early Saturday. The Illini hit just three of their first 18 field goals and went 9 1/2 minutes in the first half without a basket.

What, Kruger worry?

After pulling within one, 32-31, at the half, the Illini hit 56.7 percent of their second-half field goals -- while continuing their stifling defense.

"We opened up a little, sped-up," Kruger said. "We were looking at Kansas instead of playing with them. We're still learning."

They're quick studies.

The young Illini -- Kruger started two sophomores, a freshman and a first-year junior college transfer -- suffered close losses to nationally ranked Duke (72-69) and Maryland (69-67) already this season.

"It's important for us to beat a ranked team," said Kruger, who improved to 2-7 at Illinois against top-10 teams. "It helps our confidence, and we'll be playing a lot of ranked teams in the conference. It boosts expectations of one another.

"I told coach (Roy) Williams before the game, win or lose, I was glad we were playing because Kansas does so much you have to prepare for. " And anytime you beat a team like Kansas, it helps. It's going to get peoples' attention."

The Illini, who beat Kruger's alma mater by 33 a week ago Saturday, improved to 2-0 against the Big 12 this season and to 6-2 overall.

Though good defense has become a Kruger trademark -- none of the Illini's foes this season has scored more than 72 points, and opponents have shot just 37.9 percent this season -- Kruger was somewhat surprised to stuff KU.

"(Jeff) Boschee hit a couple of threes early, but after that I thought we did a good job finding him and (Luke) Axtell," Kruger said. "But they've got a lot of weapons. I like (Eric) Chenowith in the blocks, and I love the leadership Kenny Gregory and Nick Bradford give them. It's hard to cheat in any one area because they have so many weapons."

Kruger has a couple of his own.

Guard Cory Bradford torched the Jayhawks for a game-high 21 points -- after being held to two points on 0-for-8 shooting the first half. Center Marcus Griffin added 16 points, freshman point guard Frank Williams had 15 points and eight assists and forward Cleotis Brown contributed a dozen points.

"Early we were settling for one-pass shots," said Bradford, who hit seven of 10 field goals and five of eight three-pointers after intermission. "We finally started being patient. I was getting wide-open looks. I just took it on myself to start putting it in the hole."

Williams, meanwhile, took it upon himself to settle the offense. A partial qualifier out of Peoria (Ill.) Manuel High who had to sit out last season to become eligible, Williams had five turnovers with three steals and a blocked shot.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win this one," Williams said. "It shows how as a team we've matured, and I hope it shows how I've matured personally."

For that Williams credits, in part, love-him-or-hate-him basketball guru/blabbermouth Dick Vitale.

"He knows a lot about basketball," Williams said. "I played tapes of those games and listened to what he said. " I really think I can be one of the best point guards in the nation if I keep working on it."

-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is ahartsock@ljworld.com.

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