Women’s postseason hopes remain high

By Derek Barichello

The women’s basketball team finished the season 17-12, but they showed in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament against No. 7 Michigan State that they can be better than that.

Despite losing to the Spartans 61-50 in overtime, the Illini felt they played their best game of the season.

The Spartans, who won the tournament title after defeating Minnesota on Monday, are one of the best teams in the country at 27-3 on the season and the Illini had two opportunities at the end of regulation to beat them.

The difference in the Illini team that pushed the Spartans to the brink and the team that struggled this season was their intensity.

The Illini out rebounded the Spartans 50-40 – only the third team all season to do so- and, despite being undersized, were able to shut down the Spartans frontcourt.

“We played our hearts out,” said senior guard Tiffanie Guthrie. “I think we played the hardest we have all season and we can only build from this. Whatever form of postseason play we go into, we’re going to play with the same mentality we had when we went into this game.”

It is uncertain which postseason tournament the Illini will play in, because the NCAA Tournament Selection Show is not until Sunday, but it is likely they will receive an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which is guaranteed to teams that finish over .500 in major conferences.

The Illini’s chances of an NCAA Tournament bid were diminished by finishing under .500 in conference play, placing seventh place in the Big Ten and having a RPI ranking of 98.

If the Illini play with that same mentality in whichever tournament they advance to, they will be a dangerous team.

“I told my husband going into the game that they were a brand new team,” said Michigan State head coach Joanne McCallie. “They have been playing the way that team should be playing. They’re one of the best 17-12 teams I’ve ever seen. I thought they played very differently than they have all year. I have not seen that Illinois team before.”

For the Illini, they are just hoping for the best.

“Without a question or doubt we’re playing our best basketball right now,” said head coach Theresa Grentz. “I tell you, this team is so much fun to be with. It’s the greatest group of kids you could ever want to be around. They’re so teachable, and it’s heartbreaking we weren’t able to pull this thing out one way or another. They’re doing everything they can possibly do. I hope somewhere along the line we’ll get a break.”