PORTLAND, Ore. — It rains a lot in Oregon, although up on Mount Hood the precipitation has clearly produced loads of the white stuff.
Off in the misty distance east of Portland stands a majestic peak that stretches into the Northwest sky and provides some top-rate snow skiing.
And while it did not rain on the Portland streets Saturday, it rained instead inside the Rose Garden, home to the NBA's Portland Trailblazers. Dee Brown made sure of that.
Brown rained in four first-half 3-pointers to set a stormy tone as the 11th-ranked University of Illinois basketball team washed away the Oregon 89-59, handing the Ducks their first loss in eight visits to the annual Pape' Jam at the Rose Garden.
Brown's 26 points were a season high and he had six teammates who scored between eight and 13 to add depth and balance. Add to it a stifling defensive effort that helped Illinois hold Oregon to 35 percent shooting and you have one of Illinois' best overall performances to date.
Just like that, Illinois is 10-0 and coach Bruce Weber has set the very real goal of pushing its unbeaten streak through the remaining four non-conference games, which would send a 14-0 Illini team into action against Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference opener Jan. 5 at the Assembly Hall.
”He talked about going unbeaten in nonconference play at the beginning of the season,” claimed senior James Augustine, who had 11 rebounds for the Illini. ”I don't know if it's realistic or not, but now we'll see if we can pull it off. He's the guy standing behind us making it happen.
”We're starting to believe and have higher expectations for us. Who would have thought we'd be 10-0? Not a lot of people really thought about that.”
Well, start thinking about it.
Illinois controlled this game from the start, holding a crowd of 15,109 that assembled 115 miles from Oregon's Eugene campus quiet for most of the game. It was the few hundred enthusiastic Illini fans who gave their voices a two-hour workout.
On a night when Illinois needed extra energy, Brown provided it.
His drive to the basket gave Illinois an early 8-4 lead. His 3-pointer pushed it to 15-6. Another 3-pointer made it 18-9. And when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers with just over four minutes to play in the half, Illinois' lead had grown to 34-14.
Brown scored 15 of his points in the first half and Illinois led at the intermission 40-22.
”We've been traveling so much and playing so many games, that was one of the concerns everyone had. Would we be able to come out with enough energy?” Brown said. ”Oregon hadn't played in a week and we figured they would come out with high energy and we'd have to match that and play at a high level.”
But Oregon (4-3) could never come close to duplicating Illinois' energy level and fans started slowly filing out fairly early in the second half.
”They are an excellent defensive team and they played extremely well,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. ”Their defense took us out of our game plan and Dee really controlled the tempo and the game.”
Oregon's Malik Hairston, who scored 12 points, said his team needs to aspire to be more like the Illini.
”I think on our part it was a poor effort,” Hairston said. ”They jumped on us fast. We let Dee get loose. We really didn't ever retaliate. They are an excellent basketball team that outplayed us and outworked us.
”They were relentless. They crashed the glass every time. I'm not surprised they're this good. They work. The lost two pros, but they work. Coach Weber, I'm sure he's a great coach because everyone on that team has bought in and they work hard and understand what it takes to win basketball games.”
Weber sounded genuinely stunned by the margin of victory.
”It surprised me,” he said. ”The first thing I wrote on the board was energy, effort and enthusiasm. I was hoping to get some of that out of them. I did not anticipate this.
”I was hoping we could find a way to gut out a game but no way to get them by this margin. Our defense frustrated them.
”Dee played at a high level today. He was leading us, making shots, passing it when he needed to.”
Illinois is off now for finals week and does not return to action until Dec. 18 against Coppin State at the Assembly Hall.
Mark Tupper can be reached at email@example.com