‘Underdogs’ ready for Big Ten tourney

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

Illinois (14-13, 6-10) will hope to make it three wins this season against Northwestern as it faces the Wildcats in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament this afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Illini clinched the seventh seed by virtue of a 67-57 win at Michigan on Sunday, and losses by Penn State and Wisconsin later that day.

In its game against Michigan, Illinois was in control of the game from the outset as freshman guard Lori Bjork led the Illini with 21 points.

Northwestern was thoroughly dominated in its last game, losing 71-33 against Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The Illini and the Wildcats last played Feb. 16 as the Illini snapped an eight-game losing streak by defeating the Wildcats 60-59, thanks to a three-point play by freshman guard Chelsea Gordon with two seconds left.

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“We’ve beat them twice this year, but we can’t take this team lightly,” Gordon said.

Northwestern finished the regular season 6-21 overall and 2-14 in the Big Ten, which got it the 10th seed in the tournament. Only Michigan (0-16) had a worse conference record than the Wildcats.

They ended the season on a five-game losing streak and losers of seven of their last eight games.

The Illini have had pretty good success in the tournament reaching the semifinals four previous times, the last time being in 2001.

“We’re a little young and we are the underdogs so we don’t have anything to lose,'” said sophomore forward Danyel Crutcher.

In her last four games, Crutcher has averaged 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds.

The Illini have three players averaging in double digits, and are led by senior guard Janelle Hughes who is averaging 13.1 ppg.

All-freshman selection Bjork is third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.4 points ppg.

Hughes did not start the last game against Northwestern, but came off the bench to lead the team with 21 points. She is hoping to extend her Illini career by a few more games and go out on a positive note.

“As far as the seniors, it’s our last go round and it’s up to us as to how we finish our careers,” she said.

If the Illini defeat the Wildcats, they will play No. 2 seed Purdue on Friday at 5 p.m.