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Westbrook, Minnesota best nemesis Illinois

Jan 30, 2009 - 6:46 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Lawrence Westbrook scored 15 points and No. 24 Minnesota used some stifling defense to upend No. 20 Illinois, 59-36, on Thursday.

Westbrook shot 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc as the only player in the contest with more than 10 points.

Ralph Sampson III added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Golden Gophers (18-3, 6-3 Big Ten), who beat the Fighting Illini (17-4, 5-3) for the first time since 1999 - snapping a 20-game slide.

"I thought the key was that we needed to be a physical team tonight," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "We knew we had to in order to end the 20-game losing streak. The attitude of this group of kids was crisp, precise and focused. The guys have gone through some hardships lately but they were able to bounce back. It was a total team effort."

"We had a couple of hard practices this week," Westbrook said. "Coach was really on us about ending the streak."

The Minnesota defense held Illinois scoreless over the final 4:27, stretching the advantage with an 8-0 run to end the game. The 36 points by the Illini was the lowest total for any Big Ten team this season.

Dominique Keller finished with nine points to lead Illinois, which ended 15-of-51 (29 percent) from the floor.

The Gophers grabbed a 22-16 advantage at the half by holding the Illini to 25 percent (7-of-28) shooting in the opening 20 minutes, including 0-of-8 from beyond the arc.

"We made them take tough shots," Smith said. "We stuck them on defense and didn't allow transition points. The key was we brought in guys fresh, allowed them to be quicker on defense and get to the ball."

Westbrook and Colton Iverson combined for 10 points as Minnesota opened the second half with a 13-6 run to push the lead to 35-22 with 12:35 left to play. Iverson finished with six points and six rebounds.

"We have a lot more confidence in our post players," Smith said. "Ralph (Sampson) and Colton had a great night. They both have very good hands. Colton has been working hard on his balance and as a team we are working on getting the ball down low."

The Gophers dominated on the glass as well, 40-26, and have won two in a row.

"Coach is always talking to us about rebounding," Sampson said. "The coaching staff has been challenging us to really go after rebounds lately and we use that energy to help is in the game."