Balanced attack leads Illini to win

Sophomore guard Lori Bjork drives to the basket during the first half against Butler University, Nov. 12. John Paul Goguen

Sophomore guard Lori Bjork drives to the basket during the first half against Butler University, Nov. 12. John Paul Goguen

By Steve Contorno

Three players scored in double digits for the Illini as the women’s basketball team defeated St. Louis University 84-75 in St. Louis and improved their record to 6-1. Sophomore guard Lori Bjork played all but four minutes and scored a game-high 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

The Illini were outscored in the paint 30-28 and gave up 22 points off of 15 turnovers, but a 22-11 scoring run with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half gave Illinois a big enough cushion for the rest of the game. Until Illinois made their run, the Billikens (5-3) stayed close to the Illini and even led for a portion of the game.

“In the meat of the game, we did the things we needed to do to win the game,” head coach Theresa Grentz said.

Redshirt freshman Lacey Simpson scored six of her 11 points during the run, and also added two assists and a steal that led to a Bjork three-pointer. Bjork’s shot extended the Illini’s lead to 39-26. Illinois knocked down four three-point shots during the seven minute stretch and went into the half leading 45-31.

The Illini shot a high percentage throughout the game, shooting 56 and 59 percent in the first and second halves, respectively. Illinois also was sharp from behind the arc, draining nine of 17 shots. Bjork said their ability to hit the long shot was key for the Illini in their road victory.

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“To come into an old gym like this and get a road win, we’ll take it,” Bjork said. “They started collapsing in the post in the first half and we got some open looks and had the three barrage in the first half.”

Illinois protected their lead in the second half with strong defense. The Billikens shot a humble 35.9 percent in the second half. While they outscored the Illini 44-39 in the period, 11 of their points came in the final three minutes with the Illini leading by 20 points.

Preseason All-Atlantic 10 selection Tyler McIlwraith was held to just nine points in the game. The senior guard had a busy night, putting up 17 shots, but only converted four of them, including going 1-of-6 from three-point range.

Sophomore forward Chelsea Gordon scored a career-high 17 points on a near perfect 6-of-7 shooting. Junior forward Danyel Crutcher led all rebounders with nine.

Grentz said that the team balanced their attack with a strong defensive showing.

“Overall, from a defensive effort, I was very pleased,” Grentz said. “These road games are dangerous, but we were able to get a big lead and that helped us play looser.”

Illinois will travel south next to face Mississippi (5-2) on Dec. 2.