After blowing out Indiana, Illini will play in the quarterfinal pitting the 4 and 5 seeds against Michigan.
Everyone knows Illinois basketball goes as guard Demetri McCamey goes.
So when the Illini head into the Big Ten Tournament later this week, they do it with confidence, because McCamey is back on a roll.
"I've been playing better,'' McCamey said after the 72-48 blowout win over Indiana on senior day at Assembly Hall Saturday. "I wouldn't call it my best. I've been getting better each and every game. It's not the best, but it's getting there.''
The Illini avenged a 52-49 loss at Indiana, one of two nasty blemishes on the Illini postseason resume, by handing the Hoosiers their worst loss of the season and leaving Hoosiers coach Tom Crean in no mood to shake everyone's hand. With the Illini's play over the last two or three weeks, there's a hope for some madness in March, beginning with the conference tournament.
"We're going there to win the thing,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "That's got to be the mindset, not just get by the first day.''
That's a tough assignment, because top-ranked Ohio State, No. 6 Purdue and No. 10 Wisconsin load the bracket with teams expected to make runs in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini, who improved to 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten, might have earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but no one really knows until Selection Sunday. The Illini thought they were in there last season.
Illinois earned a bye in the conference tournament and will meet Michigan in the quarterfinal game pitting the No. 4 and 5 seeds Friday (1:30 p.m., ESPN) at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The tournament starts Thursday.
Much of the Illini's hope comes from the play of McCamey, who was mentioned as an All-America candidate early this season but, like the rest of the Illini lineup, had to play out of a midseason slump. Against Indiana, McCamey was efficient while scoring 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and one turnover.
His turnover count was lower than any game since Feb. 1, and McCamey reached double figures for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
"He's playing more confidently,'' Weber said. "Kids don't understand. It's one thing to score points. It's another thing to score points and be efficient.
"He ate a litle humble pie. The good thing is he responded. It's better late than never.''
About the only mistake made by McCamey came during the senior day ceremonies following the game, when he thanked former high school coaches, the Illini staff and nearly everyone -- except his family -- until Weber advised him to grab the mic again.
"My fault,'' he said. "I want to thank my mom and my family.''
Illini senior forward Mike Davis finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot. Senior center Mike Tisdale had nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks. But the Illini dominated, they said, because of a defense that limited Indiana to 31.6-percent shooting, including 24.1 percent in the second half.
"We've been playing great defense,'' Davis said. "We've been helping each other on defense. One guy gets beat, somebody has their back. We have good rotation. If we play great defense and try to shut teams out, we can score with the best of them.''
The attitude is also on the upswing, Tisdale said.
"Everybody has been more coachable,'' he said. "Coach Weber said, 'We don't have to coach attitudes and personalities in the huddle any more. We just have to coach basketball.' ''
The confidence is rising everywhere except for guard D.J. Richardson, who lost his starting spot against the Hoosiers because of Richardson's play rather than any issues related to a sore groin earlier in the week.
Indiana (12-19, 3-15) lost for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
"It doesn't matter what your defense looks like if you're shooting 17 percent from 3 and the low 30's for the game,'' Crean said.NOTES: Illinois is the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament if Minnesota beats Penn State Sunday, and the No. 5 seed if Penn State wins Sunday. . . The biggest ovation of the day came for a Chief Illiniwek imposter, who stood in the aisle between A and B sections during the halftime music. . . Indiana sophomore guard Jordan Hulls sank all four free throws, giving him a school-record 41 straight without a miss. . .
Illinois report cardFront court -- A Mike Davis remained active and productive, Mike Tisdale made it worth his dad's while to take a day off from the coal mine, and Bill Cole hit a 3-pointer to end a skid.
Back court -- A
Nobody was better on the floor than Demetri McCamey. He forced a few shots, but McCamey flashed some of his talent.
Bench -- B
The Illini went with the starters. Nothing wrong with that on senior day.
Overall -- A
Illinois handed Indiana its worst beating of the year. No wonder IU coach Tom Crean wanted to get out of shaking some of those hands.