MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Illinois and Minnesota are eager to start the Big Ten tournament for different reasons.
The 15th-ranked Fighting Illini, who clinched a four-way share of the conference title with a 67-66 victory over the Golden Gophers on Sunday, are out to prove they deserve the title more than Wisconsin, Ohio State and Indiana.
The Gophers just want to prove they belong in the NCAA tournament.
"As tough as this loss was, in my mind, we still control our own destiny," Minnesota's Michael Bauer said. "If we go to the Big Ten tournament and win two or three games, I think we have a strong case."
"As tough as this loss was, in my mind, we still control our own destiny. If we go to the Big Ten tournament and win two or three games, I think we have a strong case."
Getting that deep into the tournament will require the Gophers to learn how to put teams away, which again proved to be the problem Sunday when they allowed Illinois to close the game with a 10-0 run.
Trailing 66-63, Illinois tied up the Gophers underneath their basket, but the possession arrow kept the ball with Minnesota. After Kevin Burleson lost control, Cory Bradford picked up the loose ball and drained a jumper from the free throw line to pull the Illini (23-7, 11-5) within one.
"Right place at the right time," Bradford said. "It rolled right to me. I just picked it up and knocked it down."
Then, with the Gophers (16-11, 9-7) trying to get the ball past halfcourt on their next possession, Illinois cornered Burleson again. His pass to Dusty Rychart sailed out of bounds, giving Illinois possession on the baseline with 6.9 seconds left.
That set up Frank Williams' driving layup with 2.9 seconds left to cap the run and the win.
"I've been in a lot of crazy ones, but that one was one of the craziest," Illinois coach Bill Self said.
Williams' layup were his first points since the 2:20 mark of the first half and extended the Illini's winning streak to eight games.
Brian Cook led Illinois with 22 points, while Bradford added 19 and Williams 12.
Rick Rickert had 18 points and Travarus Bennett 15 for the Golden Gophers.
"(Self) drew it up," Williams said of his last-second shot. "That was the way it was supposed to happen. He told me if I caught the ball, drive the middle, it's going to be wide open. Fortunately, that's how they played it.
"It was sort of like a movie. It just happened."
It also seems like a movie considering the road the Illini took to claim their second straight conference title.
After climbing high in the national polls early in the season, Illinois slumped to a 4-5 record in the Big Ten -- including an 88-57 defeat at Indiana -- and had everyone asking what was wrong. But they pulled things together in a hurry with a series of close wins.
"To win it easily would be great. To win when you're going through tough times, that's even better because you have your ups and downs," Williams said.
Illinois enters the Big Ten tournament as the No. 3 seed and has a first-round bye. On Friday, they will play the winner of the Minnesota-Penn State opening-round game.
Minnesota beat Penn State 94-70 on Jan. 30, and pulled out a 68-64 win at University Park on Feb. 23. It's a different story if they make it to face Illinois again, though. Sunday's loss made it seven straight defeats to the Illini.
"We were too panicked the last few minutes of the game," Rychart said. "It really cost us when they started to press with under a minute to play."
No. 15 ILLINOIS 67, MINNESOTA 66
ILLINIOS (23-7, 11-6)
Head 0-2 0-0 0, Cook 8-11 6-6 22, Archibald 1-1 6-12 8, Bradford 6-10 2-2 19, Williams 5-13 0-0 12, Johnson 1-4 0-0 3, Harrington 1-4 0-0 3, Powell 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-46 14-20 67.
MINNESOTA (16-11, 9-7)
Rickert 6-13 3-4 18, Rychart 1-6 2-2 4, Holman 4-12 1-2 9, Fleming 3-11 1-2 8, Bennett 5-11 2-2 15, Hargrow 0-2 0-0 0, Burleson 1-4 0-0 2, Esselink 0-0 0-0 0, Bauer 4-10 0-0 10. Totals 24-69 9-12 66.
Halftime--Minnesota 35-33. 3-Point Goals--Illinois 9-23 (Bradford 5-8, Williams 2-6, Johnson 1-4, Harrington 1-4, Head 0-1), Minnesota 9-25 (Rickert 3-5, Bennett 3-5, Bauer 2-5, Fleming 1-6, Burleson 0-3, Hargrow 0-1). Fouled out--Rickert. Rebounds--Illinois 36 (Cook 11), Minnesota 39 (Bennett 8). Assists--Illinois 15 (Bradford, Williams, Harrington 3), Minnesota 14 (Bennett 4). Total fouls--Illinois 15, Minnesota 16. Technical Foul--Minnesota bench. A--14,612.
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