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UC belongs to UIC after win vs. Illinois

Remember the good old days when Illinois, with players such as Deron Williams, owned the United Center?

They’re gone.

With 6-9, 282-pound center Darrin Williams coming up big, it was UIC that ruled the West Side roost Saturday. Taking the swagger away from the 12th-ranked Illini, the Flames won 57-54 before a stunned orange-and-blue crowd of 13,117.

It was the fourth loss in five UC trips for Illinois, which had lost only six times in 37 games there before that. If the Illini don’t return to the UC for the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend in March, this loss to UIC (5-7) will be a big reason.

‘‘I’ve been scared, to be honest,’’ Illini coach Bruce Weber said. ‘‘We haven’t had great practices. We’ve had horrible starts. But give credit to UIC. They played with a great deal of emotion. They came ready to play.

‘‘It’s a great building with great tradition. You thought we’d have some energy. Obviously, we didn’t.’’

While thrilled with one of the biggest wins in Flames history, first-year UIC coach Howard Moore, a former Wisconsin assistant, predicted that Illinois would bounce back.

‘‘For us, this is a tremendous win,’’ Moore said. ‘‘But this is not going to be a setback for the Illini. If anything, it’s kind of a wake-up call.’’

Weber had hoped his team was beyond needing wake-up calls.

‘‘It’s sad that we have to have a wake-up call,’’ Weber said. ‘‘It’s very disappointing. It hurts me. Does it hurt them? If it hurts me worse than it hurts them, then we’re in trouble.’’

The Illini (10-2), who shot a season-low 32.7 percent, scored fewer than 73 points for the first time this season. Demetri McCamey (16 points) and D.J. Richardson (13) got little help from their frontcourt mates, Mike Tisdale (1-for-6) and Mike Davis (1-for-5), who had more fouls (seven) than points (six). And key reserves Jereme Richmond (1-for-7) and Brandon Paul (1-for-6) also struggled.

For all their problems, the Illini shrugged off UIC’s 1-3-1 zone and opened a 49-41 lead with a 19-3 run after falling behind by eight early in the second half, a stretch in which UIC didn’t make a basket for nearly 11 minutes.

But Robo Kreps (15 points) and Paul Carter (12) hit big threes to pull UIC into a 51-51 tie. And Williams, a 53 percent foul shooter, drained two free throws for a 53-52 lead, then added a put-back that made it 55-54 UIC.

Coming out of a timeout with 17.7 seconds left, Richardson and McCamey missed threes and Paul missed a put-back. With two seconds left, McCamey stepped out of bounds.

With that, UIC had beaten the Downstaters for the first time since Nov. 29, 1990. It is 2-12 against Illinois.

‘‘When Robo is 40 years old and has a pot belly,’’ Moore said, ‘‘we can sit back and talk about this over a beer. It’s going to happen, Robo. Your metabolism’s going to slow down.’’

For UIC, this win ensures a merry Christmas and brings hope.

‘‘This just gives us confidence,’’ said Kreps, who’s from the Decatur area. ‘‘Hopefully, we’ll springboard off of it. We proved to ourselves that we can [be successful], no matter who it is. In our conference, we can take it to Butler and Cleveland State.’’

Having come up short in a building it once owned, Illinois needs to regroup quickly before taking on No. 13 Missouri in St. Louis on Wednesday.

‘‘You can learn a lot from [the loss] or put your head down and lose to Missouri,’’ McCamey said.



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