Bjork leads Illini to win

 

 

By Dave Fultz

Sophomore guard Lori Bjork was in a self-described “groove” Thursday night against Michigan in the Illini’s impressive 65-44 victory at home. So much so that she outscored the Wolverines in the first half.

“Shooters talk about having the green light and I obviously have that,” Bjork said. “But tonight it was like I was on main street and they were green all the way down.”

With 17 points to Michigan’s 13 in the first half, Bjork won the scoring battle by herself. When she hit her fifth three-pointer of the game with :03 seconds left in the half, the crowd took notice – when the second half of play began, the fans responded by chanting “Lori’s winning” from their seats adjacent to the pep band.

“I was on defense to start the second half and I started to hear (the chant),” Bjork said. “I saw the scoreboard and was kind of surprised.”

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    Bjork ended the game with 25 points on 6-of-9 three-point shooting. After the team’s impressive first half, Bjork only had to play 11 minutes in the second half after playing all but two in the first. Head coach Theresa Grentz was impressed with the play of her point guard.

    “I’m glad to see her shooting like this because Lori works very hard at what she does,” Grentz said. “Tonight she just had it, you could tell from the way she was stroking the ball out there.”

    After beating Michigan (9-14, 2-8) by 19 points in its Jan. 4 meeting in Ann Arbor, Illinois (16-5, 6-3) knew that Thursday’s game was key to their NCAA Tournament hopes.

    “Tonight’s game was important because it had to be won,” Grentz said. “I’m really impressed with how we came out and played (this game). We did all the little things tonight, and we had to do to win like we did.”

    The Illini rode their stifling defense to what was an insurmountable lead in the first half. Michigan only netted 13 points in the first period shooting just 19.7 percent from the field. The Wolverines were ineffective from behind the arc, shooting a mere five percent from three-point range. Thursday’s win improved Illinois’ record to 13-0 when they allow less than 60 points and 15-1 when they are leading at halftime.

    “Everything starts on the defensive end,” Bjork said. “When we are playing with that much intensity on the defensive side of the ball, it takes a lot of pressure off of our offense and allows us to play more freely.”

    The Illini have a tough road down the stretch as they play three of their final six games against ranked opponents.