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Remembering the 2004-2005 Fighting Illini Basketball Final Four Team



Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball

The 2004-2005 Fighting Illini Basketball Team was among the best ever.

The 2004-05 season marked the 100th anniversary of basketball at the University of Illinois. The only thing that could have been better was winning the National Title. As a result, the 04-05 Illini were showered with superlatives. Head coach Bruce Weber was National Coach of the Year by nine different organizations. Dee Williams was named Sporting News National Player of the Year. Luther Head and Deron Williams were first-round draft picks (every starter from the 04-05 team would make NBA rosters), with Williams being the highest draft pick in school history (No. 3 to the Utah Jazz).

Offensively, this was the best team in school history. Illinois led the nation in assists, was fourth in scoring, and second in three-pointers made. The defense was no slouch either, finishing eighth in points allowed. Its 37 wins tied the all-time wins record then, and its 29-game winning streak was a school record. The Illini did not lose a game until the season finale, a one-point loss to Ohio State.

Key Players

Dee Brown: Known as the “one-man fast break,” Brown was the catalyst for the Illini’s offensive ball movement and flow. Brown averaged 13.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. His value, however, was beyond the stats. The Maywood, Illinois native led the fast break for Illinois and catalyzed their half-court offense. His size (5-foot-11) did not deter him from being a relentless defensive player, winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Brown was a two-time consensus All-American, 2004-05 Player of the Year and 2004-05 Big Ten Player of the Year.

Deron Williams: Williams was essentially a second point guard on the floor along with Brown, leading the team with 6.8 assists per game. He had a knack for knowing where to go with the basketball and keeping the ball movement going. Williams was also third on the team with 12.5 points per game. He would finish the season as an All-Big Ten Second Team performer.

Luther Head: Head led the Illini in scoring with 15.9 points per game. He would be named an All-Big Ten First Team, All-American Second Team, and All-Big Ten Tournament First-Team performer. When Williams and Brown looked for a shooter, Head was often the target they were looking for.

Key Games

After running rough-shod through the non-conference and the early part of its Big Ten Conference schedule, Illinois’ first test came on January 20th in a home game against the #23 Iowa Hawkeyes. Luther Head was the game’s hero, scoring 25 points, including a layup with 40 seconds left in overtime to seal the 73-68 win. Head scored twelve consecutive points during one stretch of the game and had six steals and six rebounds.

The Big Ten is one of the most challenging conferences to win road games, and the Illini had to overcome its poorest offensive performance of the season to survive in Ann Arbor against the Michigan Wolverines. Dee Brown was the hero of this game, leading the Illini in scoring (16 pts). Brown turned three steals into points, helping Illinois overcome 12 minutes without a field goal and an eight-point deficit early in the second half for the win.

The Illini dominated the Big Ten Tournament, and Arizona in the Elite Eight was its first challenger. Illinois overcame a 15-point deficit to win the game 90-89 overtime. Deron Williams was the hero of this game, scoring a team-leading 22 points and leading a rally late in the second half to force overtime.

Illinois’ 75-70 loss in the National Title game was a microcosm of who they were all season. The Illini were not intimidated by the North Carolina championship pedigree. Even with Dean Smith and Michael Jordan in the stands cheering the Tar Heels, the Illini were not going down without a fight. Down 40-27 at halftime, the Illini never felt like they were out of the game and stormed back and kept it close but could not overcome Sean May in the paint.

Despite the loss, this was the best team in Fighting Illini basketball history.

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.