Illini improve game during weekend win

Illinois forward Erin Wigley (34), goes for a layup while Lewis guard Mary Moskal (22), attempts to block her during the Illinois vs. Lewis basketball game Sunday, at Assembly Hall. Tessa Pelias

Illinois forward Erin Wigley (34), goes for a layup while Lewis guard Mary Moskal (22), attempts to block her during the Illinois vs. Lewis basketball game Sunday, at Assembly Hall. Tessa Pelias

By Derek Barichello

The Illini women’s basketball team played a solid second half of basketball en route to a 91-60 victory on Sunday over Lewis University in its final exhibition game.

After a successful Big Ten Tournament last year against one of the best frontcourts in the nation, junior center Audrey Tabon has continued her dominance down low, with strong performances in the first two exhibition games.

For the first three minutes of the game, Lewis and Illinois exchanged baskets as the Illini held a slim 9-6 lead.

Then Tabon took over, scoring four straight buckets in less than two minutes, including a three-pointer to give the Illini a 16-8 lead.

Tabon scored 16 points, pulled down eight rebounds, recorded three steals and blocked a shot, but perhaps the biggest statistic line for Tabon in the box score was her time played – a team-high 28 minutes.

“I’m ready to go,” Tabon said about her playing time. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”

The Flyers closed in on Illinois’ lead and brought the score to 23-18 before the Illini scored 13 unanswered points. The run was led by junior forward Erin Wigley, who scored seven of her game-high 19 points on the run.

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Wigley said.

Lewis would come back again and cut Illinois’ 18-point lead down to eight at halftime, 46-38.

The Illini did not play as well as they would have liked to in the first half. They committed 10 turnovers to 9 assists and shot only 37.5 percent from the free-throw line.

“We were definitely not happy with ourselves in the first half,” Wigley said. “The second half we came out with a lot of intensity.”

Head coach Theresa Grentz took the blame for her team’s first-half performance.

“There was confusion on what we wanted to do tonight, when we wanted to do it and how we wanted to do it,” Grentz said. “I take full responsibility for those mistakes. They were rectified and changed and they understood at the second half.”

Only three seconds into the second half, freshman Lori Bjork sparked the Illini as she was fouled while shooting a three-pointer. Bjork converted all three shots and the Illini took control of the game.

A layup by sophomore forward Danyel Crutcher gave the Illini their second 20-point lead of the game, and it never got any closer as the Illini won by 31. The Illini would finish the game with 20 assists compared to 19 turnovers.

The senior-guard duo of Janelle Hughes and Maggie Acuna had a big game. Hughes scored 12 points and Acuna dished out 10 assists and recorded seven steals.

Sunday’s game was played with two experimental rules in place, a 20’6″ three-point line instead of the usual 19’9″ line and a 10-second backcourt rule.

The longer three-point line did not seem to phase the Illini as they were 5-12 from long distance, good for 41.7 percent. Lewis, however, struggled going only 5-20 from beyond the arc.

Bjork led the way again for the Illini with two three-pointers and led all freshmen in scoring with 11 points. Freshman guard Chelsea Gordon, sophomore forward Stephanie Chelleen and Tabon all contributed a three-point basket as well.

Overall, Tabon said the Illini are still getting used to playing with each other, particularly the freshmen.

“We’re getting much better,” Tabon said. “For one half today we got better. So every game we’ll get better.”

At one point in the game, Grentz played all five freshmen at a time.

“My staff said, ‘there’s five freshmen out there,’ and I said ‘that’s the future,'” Grentz said. “We had the opportunity to play some people. I’m a gambler, so I’ll try it.”

Grentz said it is likely the five freshmen could make their way onto the court again, but said one of the upperclassmen will usually be on the court at all times.

As for the lineup, Grentz started Hughes and Acuna at guard, Wigley and Bjork at forward and Tabon at center. She said the lineup will be the same for Friday’s opener at Northern Illinois.