Illini stuff Lions to keep streak alive

By Derek Barichello

The Illini women’s basketball team fought off a second half rally from Penn State on Thursday and came away with a 66-57 victory to remain a perfect 6-0 at home this season.

The win moves the Illini to 3-1 in the conference and 11-4 overall. It was Illinois’ seventh win in its last eight games.

The game started with a couple of lead changes. Both teams came out firing and the Illini struck early with an 11-7 advantage, but the momentum swung back to Penn State, who answered back with a 13-3 run.

Illinois responded with 16 unanswered points to move ahead 30-20 with just under five minutes to play in the first half. The Illini stayed ahead the rest of the way, going into halftime with a commanding 36-26 lead.

Looking to kick start her team’s offense, Penn State head coach Rene Portland started the second half with a four-guard offense which caused the Illini some problems.

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The Lady Lion group played well offensively and cut the Illini lead to five with just over 15 minutes left in the game.

The lead was chipped to four after Lady Lion guard Adrienne Squire buried a three-pointer from the right baseline at the 12:30 mark.

Fortunately, for the Illini, it was as close as Penn State would get.

Senior guard Janelle Hughes led the way with 15 points and sophomore Danyel Crutcher added 14 points and eight rebounds to the winning effort.

Junior Audrey Tabon also pitched in a double-digit scoring night with 12 points and eight rebounds.

The Illini did their fair share of damage from beyond the arc on Thursday. They finished the game 6-11 from three-point land, good for 54.5 percent.

Although it is still January, the win puts the Illini in good position for an NCAA Tournament berth.

The season turned the corner with a home win on Dec. 18 against then-No.15 Oklahoma 86-75. After the win, the Illini developed a swagger and rolled past Illinois State on Dec. 22 and Michigan on Dec. 29 in the Big Ten opener.

And after suffering a 84-65 setback in Iowa, the Illini took to the road and defeated Rhode Island on Jan. 5 and returned home for a win against Northwestern on Jan. 8.

The Illini will look to keep it going when they travel to Madison to take on the Badgers on Sunday.

The Badgers are 1-3 in the conference and 6-9 overall. Last season, the Illini dropped a pivotal contest down the stretch in Madison 65-60 on Feb. 10.