Illinois is no longer undefeated in Las Vegas or during the 2009-10 season.
Looking to bounce back from a last-second loss, the 20th-ranked Illini face in-state rival Bradley on Saturday night in the third-place game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
The tournament favorite that had gone 5-0 on its way to winning the 2001 and 2004 Las Vegas Invitational titles, Illinois (4-1) was stunned 60-58 by Utah in Friday’s semifinal contest.
Highlighted by an 18-2 run, Illinois led 32-16 at the half and looked in position to remain perfect in Vegas. The Illini, however, struggled on the defensive end as the Utes shot 16 for 23 in the final 20 minutes after going 7 of 29 in the first half. Utah’s Shawn Glover banked home a runner in the lane at the buzzer to pull off the upset in Illinois’ first game away from home.
“We just couldn’t stop them in the second half,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose squad was outscored 44-26 in the second half. “We couldn’t go transition. I thought our defense was good in the first half, but not in the second half.”
Despite 19 points from junior Demetri McCamey and a season-high 18 from 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale, Illinois shot a season-low 39.0 percent after connecting on 52.4 percent of its shots in four victories over some weaker competition heading into the tournament semifinals.
After averaging a team-leading 11.5 points last season, McCamey has scored 40 points in his last two games after totaling 26 in his first three games.
In order for Illinois to avoid being upset a second time, it may need star freshman Brandon Paul to break out of his current scoring funk. The 6-foot-4 guard from north suburban Chicago scored 42 points combined in his first two games, but has been held to 19 in his last three contests. He had five and went 1 for 7 from the field against Utah.
Separated by roughly 90 miles, Illinois and Bradley will meet more than 1,700 miles away from their respective central Illinois campuses for the first time since the Illini’s 75-71 victory over the Braves on Nov. 25, 2006.
Illinois leads 13-2 in the all-time series and has won the last four meetings with Bradley (3-2), which lost 68-57 to Oklahoma State in Friday’s other semifinal.
Taylor Brown had a game-high 21 points but was the only player in double figures for Bradley, which shot 39.6 percent and committed 15 turnovers against the Cowboys.
The 6-foot-6 Brown is averaging a team-leading 18.7 points on 55.0 percent shooting in three games after serving a two-game suspension for violating team rules.
The Braves beat then-No. 16 Drake 72-71 on Feb. 19, 2008 for their last victory over a Top 25 opponent. They’ve lost five in a row to non-conference, ranked schools since winning 72-66 over then-No. 16 Pittsburgh in the 2006 NCAA tournament.