Women’s basketball loses to Michigan State

By Derek Barichello

For 40 minutes, women’s basketball stood toe-to-toe with No. 7 Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday. It was the extra five minutes that put them away.

The second-seeded Spartans shut out the Illini in overtime, garnering a 61-50 win and ending Illinois’ hopes of an upset.

The game was a back and forth battle, featuring eight lead changes and 14 ties.

The Illini led most of the game, forcing the Spartans to play catch up, something the Spartans were not used to doing. In their nine previous wins, the Spartans trailed for a total of 4:28.

The Spartans tied the game when Lindsay Bowen stole the ball and drove it the length of the court for a lay up.

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The Illini had two chances to win the game at the end of regulation, but could not capitalize. Senior forward Angelina Williams missed a jumper and senior guard Tiffanie Guthrie pulled down her 10th offensive rebound of the game to give the Illini another shot. After a timeout, Guthrie took a six-footer at the buzzer which fell short.

“I just tried to throw it up there,” Guthrie said. “I tried to draw the foul, but I didn’t make the basket and I didn’t get fouled so it went into overtime.”

Illinois head coach Theresa Grentz said if she had to do it all over again, she might have tried something different coming out of the timeout.

“I think I would’ve put five shooters on the floor and spread them,” Grentz said. “I don’t know if it would’ve worked. We’ve never done that, but that would’ve caused Michigan State to spread. I can think of a thousand things I should’ve done.”

The Spartans dominated in the overtime period, outscoring the Illini 11-0. The biggest bucket in the overtime period came after Kristin Haynie pulled down an offensive rebound and finished it off by nailing a three-pointer to put the Illini down by five.

The Illini could not manage any offense, going 0-7 from the floor. When the Illini missed, the Spartans were there for the rebound, pulling down 12 in the overtime period.

“I think they just were more focused (in the overtime period) and hustled more than we did,” said sophomore forward Erin Wigley.

Grentz said the momentum shifted at the end of regulation.

“In overtime everyone regroups,” Grentz said. “It put a distance between us and them that hadn’t been there all game. I think that gave them the momentum. They are the co-champions of the conference and that gave them just enough that they needed.”

What made the Illini successful in regulation was their intensity on the glass; they became only the third team all season to out rebound the Spartans, 47-28. Off of their 47 rebounds, 27 were on the offensive glass, leading to 21 second-chance points.

Sophomore forward Audrey Tabon led the way for the Illini with a career-high 12 rebounds, and Wigley added 11.

“It was one of our goals coming in,” Wigley said. “We were undersized in the post. That was what we worked on going into the game.”

The Illini frontcourt also played a huge role on the defensive end. They were able to contain Michigan State’s Kelli Roehrig and Liz Shimek, holding them to 23 points combined.

“They are very tough to guard,” Tabon said. “Roehrig and Shimek are two of the toughest post players I’ve ever played. They are very physical. We just wanted to keep them off of the low block and we did a pretty good job of it.”

The two statistics that will haunt the Illini from Friday’s game are their free-throw shooting and their field goal percentage. The Illini missed their last three free throws down the stretch and finished the game just 6-14 from the stripe. They shot just 31.8 percent from the field.

“The foul shooting was not good,” Grentz said. “We needed one more point somewhere, (maybe) if we could have gotten one more on the front end (of a one-and-one). When you shoot like that, you are not going to win too many games.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the team was happy with their performance.

“Each player gave everything they had and played as well as they could,” Grentz said. “I’m very proud of this team.”

The Illini are 17-12 and will await their postseason fate. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be held on Sunday. If the Illini do not receive a berth, they will likely receive an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).