Women escape first round

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

The Illinois women’s basketball team blew a 13-point second half lead, but recovered to defeat Northwestern 60-49 Thursday in its first game of the Big Ten tournament.

“We played a game where we had to keep pulling and getting it, but we were able to do it in the end,” said Illini head coach Theresa Grentz.

The first half was a seesaw affair. If one team seemed to be taking control of the game, the other would come back with a run to close the gap or take that lead.

A 7-0 run by the Wildcats in the first half got them a 19-15 lead, but freshman guard Chelsea Gordon hit a three-pointer from the corner to give the Illini a 20-19 lead.

With the game tied at 23, the Illini used a 7-2 burst at the end of the half to take a 30-25 lead into halftime.

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The Illini shot 40 percent in the first half and held the Wildcats to 32 percent, but the Illini committed 11 turnovers in the half and 21 overall to keep the Wildcats in the game.

“We committed turnovers that caused problems for us and we have to break out of that,” Grentz said.

At the beginning of the second half, senior guard Janelle Hughes got the Illini off to a fast start – rebounding a miss by Wildcats’ guard Ifeoma Okonkwo and going the length of the floor for the lay-up.

The Illni had the chance to increase the lead further, but junior forward Erin Wigley missed a breakaway lay-up. The rebound went to freshman guard Lori Bjork, but she missed the lay-up as well. The Illni would turn the ball over on that possesion, with the lead still at six points.

“It’s the little things and the little plays that must be converted,” Grentz said.

The Illini would stretch the lead out to 13 points with 11 minutes left in the game.

But the Illini gave that lead away in an eight-minute span in which they scored a total of two points.

After the Wildcats tied the game at 45, Wigley hit a 13-foot jumper and was fouled, but she missed the free throw. The Illini did make 11 of their 13 free throws in the second half.

Wigley’s basket was the beginning of a 9-2 run which put the game out of reach.

The Illini were led in scoring by sophomore forward Danyel Crutcher who scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. But the Illini’s frontline dominated the Wildcats.

“Sometimes, when the guards are not scoring, we have to pick up the slack,” Crutcher said.

Northwestern was led by Okonkwo who scored a game-high 26 points in her last college basketball game.

With the win, the Illini will play the No. 2 seed Purdue Boilermakers Friday at 5 p.m.

“Purdue is very good, let’s face it, but on any given day, anything can happen,” Grentz said.