Women fall short in Big Ten pursuit

Women fall short in Big Ten pursuit

By Derek Barichello

The women’s basketball team did all it could in its pursuit to do what no other Big Ten team has done: defeat No. 11 Purdue. And although they gave the Boilermakers a scare, it was not enough. The Illini lost in a heartbreaker 57-53 on Sunday.

Junior forward Audrey Tabon put the Illini within one point with 2:15 left in the game. Purdue answered with a two-pointer by Sharika Webb as the shot clock was winding down.

The Illini had a chance to tie, but senior guard Janelle Hughes’ three-pointer came up short. A three-point play the other way by Purdue’s Katie Gearlds put the game out of reach.

It was nothing new for the Illini, 4-3 in the conference and 12-6 overall, to play toe-to-toe with a top conference opponent, but the feeling of falling short is getting old.

“I’m tired of it,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “I want to win. I want us to be in the middle of the fight. I want to play spoiler. I want to give this team a chance to play for a championship.”

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Both teams finished close in shooting, with Illinois beating Purdue 37 percent to 32.2 percent. The Illini even out rebounded the Boilermakers 42-36, but the big difference in the box score was turnovers. The Illini had 19 to Purdue’s nine.

“They were quick to the ball,” Grentz said. “Those opportunities really helped them… It just didn’t fall our way in the end.”

The Illini wasted no time showing Purdue they could play with them, getting the ball inside and jumping out to a 9-4 lead.

But that was when Purdue’s defense decided to shut the door on Illinois’ inside game. The Boilermakers took advantage of Illini turnovers (11 in the first half) to tie the game at nine at the 15:09 mark and pull away to a six-point lead at halftime, a lead they would not relinquish.

Five minutes into the second half, Hughes had a chance to bring the Illini within four when a basket from beyond the arc rimmed in and out. Purdue brought the lead back to 10 with a couple of free throws and a three-pointer by Aya Traore.

Illinois did not stop fighting. Senior point guard Maggie Acuna cut the lead to six after a four-point play, and although Purdue bounced back with a couple of baskets to extend its lead to nine, the shot caused the season-high 4,916 at Assembly Hall to get behind the team.

The Illini used the energy from the crowd to claw back on a balanced inside attack and five-of-six free throw shooting down the stretch.

“I give Illinois a lot of credit, I love their team, but the experience mattered,” Purdue head coach Kristy Curry said.

For the Illini, it was hard to come up with many answers on another tough-luck loss, but Grentz thinks it is just a matter of getting over the hump just once.

“They need to believe they can win,” Grentz said. “It is not enough to just know the (scouting report) well. They are here to win this stupid game. This is one of my favorite teams and they are super kids. What hurts so much is all it takes is just to give them a little taste because once they get to taste it, they’ll know what this is all about.”