Women advance in tourney

By Derek Barichello

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – With the game tied at 26 and only a minute left to go in the first half, it appeared that Illinois and Northwestern were in for a tight game – until the Illini seniors took over.

Seniors Angelina Williams, Tiffanie Guthrie and Jere Issenmann combined for 26 of the team’s final 40 points, leading the way to a 66-43 victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

Williams, who recorded a game-high 20 points and five steals, said the seniors just refused to lose.

“We’ve talked about it,” Williams said. “We needed to get past the first round. We’ve left here the last three years crying or upset. It’s more fun to make it to the second round.”

The win was the first for the Illini in the conference tournament since 2001.

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Although the Illini came out far ahead, they did not get off to a good start. In the first half, the team shot just 37.5 percent from the field.

“In the first half we came out a little timid,” Williams said. “The difference was in the second half we came out more aggressive. We were in attack mode.”

The turning point in the game came on the Illini’s final possession of the first half.

With five seconds remaining, Guthrie drove the lane only to be met by Wildcat defenders. She found junior Brittney Daugherty wide open at the top of the key. Daugherty caught the ball, launched it off the backboard and into the basket right before the buzzer sounded.

The play put the Illini up 30-26 and gave them the momentum going into halftime.

“I was dead open, so I called for the ball,” Daugherty said. “I knew there wasn’t much time so I had to launch it and it went in. That really got us going at the end of the half.”

The Illini then came out in the second half and took control of the game.

The Illini switched from zone defense to man-to-man and picked up the intensity. The defense shut down Wildcats go-to player Sarah Kwasinski.

She managed just six points in the second half and finished with 14.

“Northwestern wanted to get it into her,” said head coach Theresa Grentz. “We wanted to contest that. We put pressure on the wings, which put pressure on the post. We were able to disrupt (Northwestern’s post play). I think that took them out of their sync.”

Another thing that took Northwestern out of sync was the Illini’s full court pressure. The pressure caused Northwestern fits.

“It helped us,” Grentz said. “They were coming down with only 11-12 seconds to run their offense. That was good for us.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Illini were happy with Issenmann’s performance. She has struggled this season, shooting just 27 percent from the field. She was 3-3 from the field on Thursday and added seven points.

“I have told her she needs to catch them and lift,” Grentz said. “If she hits them, it will help our offense tremendously.”

If Issenmann hits her shots, it would add another weapon the Illini offense.

“When I hit open shots, it opens it up for everyone else,” Issenmann said.

With the win, the Illini advance to play No. 7 Michigan State, the second seed in the tournament who shared the Big Ten regular season title with Ohio State.

The Illini have lost their previous two meetings to the Spartans, falling 62-42 in Champaign on Jan. 19 and most recently 68-59 in East Lansing, Mich., on Feb. 6.

“We played them very well last time,” Grentz said. “We did some very good things. By the end of that game, we believed we could win.”