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CHICAGO, Ill. – Christian Watford picked a good time to regain his basketball 'A' game.
Indiana's senior forward totaled 15 points and six rebounds to lead the top-seeded Hoosiers to a 80-64 victory over eighth-seeded Illinois Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tourney.
Watford had scored just three points in his last game and failed to reach double figures in three of his previous four.
"He played at a high level," point guard Yogi Ferrell said. "I remember when he flew in from the top of the key to get a rebound. That definitely helped get him going and our team going."
The Hoosiers (27-5) advanced to Saturday's semifinals. They'll play Wisconsin (22-10), which beat Michigan on Friday, 68-59.
The Badgers won the only meeting this season by a 64-59 score in Assembly Hall. They have beaten the Hoosiers 11 straight times.
IU reached the Big Ten tourney semifinals for the fifth time, but the first since 2006.
"Our whole focus was to play our best basketball, and hopefully we play even better (on Saturday)," coach Tom Crean said. "We started off in a great way and continued to play at a high level."
The Hoosiers got 24 points and nine rebounds from Cody Zeller while avenging a 74-72 loss to the Illini (22-12) last month.
Will Sheehey came off the bench to total 11 points. Ferrell had 12. Victor Oladipo had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also had a 360-degree spinning dunk to ensure there would be no doubt which was the better team.
It impressed everybody, it seemed, but teammate Jordan Hulls.
"I'd give it a 9 out of 10," he said with a smile. "He can do better."
"That's not my best one."
Illinois was led by Brandon Paul and Tracy Abram. Both had 16 points.
Hulls only scored one point, but had seven assists and no turnovers.
IU dominated the boards with a 38-26 advantage.
"Rebounding was the key," Crean said. "We had it going from the beginning. We were getting some put-backs.
Illinois did little against an inspired Hoosier defense in the first half. The Illini's second-half resolve surfaced in the opening seconds when Tyler Griffey hit a three-pointer. The Illini weren't going away.
As it turned out, neither were the Hoosiers.
"Where we had the second-half lull, we weren't rebounding like we needed to," Crean said. "We got that right and closed the game right. Our guys understand how important rebounds are."
IU wanted to attack Illinois' vulnerable post game right from the start, but poor early shooting was a problem.
IU opened 3-for-10 with four turnovers, but that was better than Illinois, which was 2-for-9 with five turnovers. The result -- the Hoosiers led 10-5 after nine minutes.
Indiana kept pushing the pace and attacking the boards. Illinois kept missing shots and turning it over. The Hoosiers pushed ahead by 15, and it could have been more if they hadn't had turnover issues of their own. Still, they accepted that as a price for pushing the pace.
By halftime, IIU was up 35-21 and that was with 1-for-8 three-point shooting and 11 turnovers. Illinois was just 7-for-27 (25.9 percent) and eight turnovers against two assists.
"Indiana was really locked on our shooters early," coach John Groce said. "It took us a while to get adjusted."
The Illini opened the second half far sharper, starting with Griffey's three-pointer. Still, with Zeller leading the way, the Hoosiers led 45-33 at the 15:40 mark.
Illinois cut the deficit to 10 multiple times. With eight minutes left, the lead was eight, at 60-52.
Then Hulls tossed a no-look pass to Oladipo for a layup to ignite a victory clinching 18-6 run.
"At the end of the day, we just weren't able to stop them down the stretch," Groce said.