Illini stay alive on road

By Derek Barichello

The women’s basketball team traveled north to Madison, Wis. and stayed hot.

The Illini defeated Wisconsin 84-54 on 57 percent shooting to win their fourth-straight game and seven of their last eight, avenging a late-season loss to the Badgers last season in Madison.

It did not take long for the Illini to get started as the Illini jumped out to a 24-8 lead in the first 10 minutes to put some distance between them and the Badgers.

The Badgers then cut the lead to nine going into halftime at 39-30. Illinois responded by making its first five baskets of the second half and holding Wisconsin scoreless.

Following back-to-back three pointers, the Illini led 56-32 with 14:28 remaining in the second half.

As a team, the Illini connected on 34-of-59 shots from the field, including 11-of-16 from three-point land, good for 68.8 percent

“We did a good job with the inside-outside game in the first half to get some open looks from the perimeter,” Grentz said. “Lori knocked down her first shot from about 22-feet and that got her going. From there, everyone else just fed off her confidence.”

Meanwhile, the Illini continued their stellar defense, limiting the Badgers to just 36.8 percent shooting and causing 19 turnovers.

Not only did the Illini avenge last season’s loss at the Kohl Center, but a pair of players left their mark on Kohl Center history.

Freshman Lori Bjork led the way with her career-best 24 points. She shot five of six from behind the arc, setting a building record for three-point percentage.

“The ball felt good coming of my hand (Saturday) at shoot-around and (Sunday) during warm-ups, so I felt confident going into the game,” Bjork said. “Shooting is contagious, so once I started hitting, everyone else’s confidence grew as well.”

Senior point guard Maggie Acuna had 16 assists, setting an Illini and Kohl Center record.

“Maggie had that twinkle in her eye today,” Illini head coach Theresa Grentz said. “Maggie was everywhere. She does such a great job running our offense, that if others just knock down shots, she’s going to get big assist numbers. Both Maggie and Janelle, the two seniors in our back court, have stepped up their play this year.”

The win moves the Illini’s record to 3-1 in the Big Ten and 11-4 overall, which ties them for second place with Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State. Only Purdue, who is 5-0 in the conference sits ahead of the Illini.

The Illini will get a chance to create some separation in conference play on Thursday night at Michigan State.