Illinois hung around with Minnesota for much of the first half of Wednesday's game, with both teams trading narrow leads. The Gophers flipped a switch in the second half, though, and embarked on two lopsided scoring runs on the way to an 86-75 victory over the Fighting Illini.
The first run came with the Gophers trailing 47-42 with 16:08 remaining in the second half. Two 3-pointers by Gabe Kalscheur, one by Isaiah Washington and a Jordan Murphy slam dunk capped the 13-1 run which put the Gophers up 55-48 and changed the tide of the game.
The second run came minutes later as Gophers burst the lead wide open with a 12-0 run in 2:17 to push the lead to 69-53, an advantage they didn't relent through the final horn.
"I thought we got out on the fast break, in order to do get on the break you have to defend and you have to rebound and I thought we were patient offensively, we weren't in a rush, except for a couple of shots late," said head coach Richard Pitino. "For the most part we calmed down and moved the ball and got good looks late in the clock."
Two young guards were the key to the second half surge as sophomore Isaiah Washington and
freshman Gabe Kalscheur picked up the pace to start the second half.
Kalscheur finished the game with 14 points on 4-7 shooting including 11 points in the second half.
"I had to be more aggressive [in the second half] and just take smarter shots, I forced a couple in the first half" Kalscheur said. "The ball was reversing and I was getting to my spots."
Washington continued his stretch of strong games and took advantage of open looks and use his court vision to open up his teammates. He finished with a team-high +18 plus-minus rating and scored 12 points while dishing out four assists.
"Isaiah Washington was terrific off the bench and shows you what he can bring," Pitino said. "He creates his own shot and I don't know if anyone on our team can do that as well as he can. When he's on balance he's a good shooter, when he takes good shots he's a good shooter and he's starting to play the right way."
Washington admitted that this may have been his best game in a Gophers uniform.
"I played a lot more poised today and just let the game come to me," Washington said. "It was basically just one-on-one basketball today and I'm a good player at that."
The combo warmed the team's cold shooting from the three point line as they hit a combined four 3-point shots within four minutes. The team made 6-15 3-point shots in the second half after going 0-4 in the first half.
"I thought we got some good looks, Dupree [McBrayer] hit a big [three], Gabe hit some really big ones and we we were setting some good flares on the back side and guys were finding them," Pitino said. "I want them to shoot them when they're open, that's too big a part of the game to not shoot threes, but they have to be good shots."
The Gophers will now look to extend their winning streak to three games, but face a tough upcoming stretch against three ranked teams in a row. Up next, the team will take on No. 17 Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana on Feb. 3.