Buckeyes’ Big Ten, overall winning streaks remain after defeating Illini

By Brian Atlas

The No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes entered Sunday’s game at Assembly Hall riding an overall 15-game winning streak and a 28-game Big Ten winning streak, and both streaks were still active when the game concluded. Ohio State prevailed over Illinois 69-60.

The Buckeyes’ (23-1, 12-0 Big Ten) All-American center Jessica Davenport was constantly double- and triple-teamed by the Illini but scored at will after a slow start to the game. She totaled 28 points and added three assists, two blocks and three steals. Head coach Theresa Grentz approved of the way her team defended Davenport.

“I thought we had some different combinations of things we wanted to do,” Grentz said. “I think any time we left her in single coverage she hurt us.”

Davenport used her 6-foot-5 frame to her full advantage and made 66 percent of her shots. Grentz knew freshman center Jenna Smith had a daunting task in matching up against Davenport, but Grentz thought she did an overall good job.

Sophomore guard Lori Bjork hit timely shots to keep the Illini (16-8, 6-6 Big Ten) in the game until the end. The crowd erupted when Bjork drained a three-pointer with 5:37 to go in the contest to cut the score to 54-50. She continued her streak with at least one three-pointer made to 31 straight games, which is actively the fourth longest in the nation.

Despite Bjork’s strong effort, she understood the consequence of the game.

“I thought we started off a little bit slow, but after the first five minutes, we matched their intensity,” Bjork said. “You can’t just play hard; you’ve got to execute. You’ve got to find a way to win, and we didn’t.”

Bjork didn’t just shoot outside jumpers, though. Illinois’ first bucket of the game came off an aggressive Bjork drive with her left hand with 17:26 left in the first period that immediately got the crowd in the game. The crowd was the biggest it was all season, as 6,227 showed up for the “Paper the Hall” game.

Junior forward Danyel Crutcher had a double-double, scoring 13 and grabbing 10 boards. Crutcher cut the deficit to seven with 8:03 left in the game, when she wove to the basket and made an athletic left-handed layup.

Illinois got hurt by the Buckeyes’ Stephanie Blanton, who hit a three with 3:45 remaining in the game. She drilled another three less than a minute later to extend the score to 62-53.

After a series of tough games, Crutcher believes Illinois’ attitude will help the team down the stretch.

“We’re kind of mellow,” Crutcher said. “A lot of teams get crazy, and they show up with nothing. It’s not about how you come out for the game . It’s how you play on the court.”

Ohio State coach Jim Foster stated that Illinois was good enough to make the NCAA tournament. He was an assistant coach for Grentz while she was the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Basketball 1992 Olympic team.

“I would expect Jim to say that,” Grentz said. “Whether he says it or not doesn’t matter. We’re going to have to win some games.”

The Illini take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.