Women experience ups and downs out of town

Illinois forward Janelle Hughes dribbles down the court while being guarded by a Lewis defender during the Illinois vs. Lewis basketball game Nov. 13, at Assembly Hall. Tessa Pelias

Illinois forward Janelle Hughes dribbles down the court while being guarded by a Lewis defender during the Illinois vs. Lewis basketball game Nov. 13, at Assembly Hall. Tessa Pelias

By Derek Barichello

Young teams are notoriously inconsistent and the youthful Illini followed suit starting their season 2-2 last week.

During break, the women played four games away from home, finishing in second place in the Coors Classic in Boulder, Colo.

The Illini put together two strong performances for wins, but lost their other two games. Streaky shooting by their opponents combined with inconsistent scoring by the Illini were key factors in their losses.

Their most recent game was a 71-47 loss to Northern Iowa in the Coors Classic Championship on Saturday.

In the game, Northern Iowa (2-1) never trailed. The Illini kept it close through most of the first half, but a 10-0 run by the Panthers at the end of the first half gave them a 34-19 lead and the momentum they would need to cruise in the second half.

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The Illini were plagued with 24 turnovers and shot only 39 percent from the field.

The one bright spot for the Illini was freshman forward Lori Bjork, who led the team in scoring Saturday with 11 points.

Bjork was the only Illini player named to the All-Tournament team. Bjork led Illinois in scoring in both tournament games, averaging 14.0 points and 4.5 rebounds, while finishing 10-17 from the field.

“Lori has that shooter’s mentality,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “Shooter’s shoot, and I told her after the other night that if she stops shooting then I need to put in someone else. She’s one of the best shooters on the team, and we need her on the court. She’s very bright, and she shot the ball well.”

The Illini dominated Utah State 62-43 on Friday to get to the championship game.

Bjork, who was 0-10 in her previous game, missed her first three shots before finding her rhythm. She hit a pair of first half three- pointers to break out of the slump and finished with a game-high 17 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-6 from beyond the arc. Bjork also added six rebounds and two steals.

Illinois jumped on top of the Aggies early with an 18-0 first half run, giving the Illini a 28-6 lead in the first half. Junior forward Erin Wigley had eight points in the run and finished with 13.

The Illini continued to dominate Utah State in the second half; the closest the Aggies came was 11.

“We needed to come out focused and intense to win this game, and I thought we did that,” Grentz said. “I thought our bench responded well after we lost our center and point guard in the first half to foul trouble. That was very encouraging.”

Before last Friday’s triumph, the Illini suffered a heartbreaking loss last Wednesday to Northern Colorado (2-1), 65-55.

The Bears buried three-pointers all night. They finished the game 15-32 from downtown, while the Illini struggled from there, making only 3-18.

Senior guard Janelle Hughes had a game-high 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the losing effort.

“Northern Colorado played well, they hit shots and did what they needed to do to win,” Grentz said. “We knew they would jack up 40 threes and they put them in every which way. You have to give them credit.”

The Illini came into Northern Colorado with momentum after winning their season opener 79-39 against Loyola on Nov. 18.

The Illini defense was stifling in the win. The defense forced 23 turnovers and 10 steals in the first half, allowing Loyola only 16 shot attempts.

All 12 Illini players scored in the contest. Senior guard Maggie Acuna had one of the biggest nights of her career, scoring a career-high 11 points on 4-4 shooting, adding seven assists, five steals, four rebounds and committing no turnovers. Bjork led the Illini in scoring with 13 points and junior center Audrey Tabon added 10.

“Our kids are very blue collar and very coachable, I think the future is bright for this group,” Grentz said. “It was good to get everyone some experience, and I give Loyola credit; they fought hard and didn’t quit.”

Before the Loyola game, Grentz announced that freshman forward Victoria Arndt plans to redshirt this season. Arndt was the 91st- ranked senior out of high school according to All-Star Girls Report.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Grentz said. “Her attitude has been tremendous through this whole thing. She is very mature and nobody works harder than she does in the gym – Tori has the heart of a lion. She’ll be able to practice with us and will improve so that she can help us down the road.”