Women bounced from Big Ten tourney early after difficult loss to Penn State

By Dave Fultz

Illinois (18-11, 8-8) fell to Penn State (15-15, 8-8) in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday. The fourth-seeded Illini never led in a game that saw fifth-seeded Penn State lead by as many as 12 points three times in the game.

Illinois has now failed to make it past the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament in each of the last six seasons.

The Illini offense sputtered from the opening tip-off and they quickly found themselves down by 11 points five minutes into the game.

Before senior forward Erin Wigley made the Illini’s first basket with 15:05 to play in the first half, Illinois had three turnovers and six missed shots.

“The 11-0 run really hurt us, really hurt us from the beginning,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “We came back, we fought back at the end of the half, came back a couple times, got it to within four, and we just could never get over that hump.”

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The lead was cut to four points when freshman center Jenna Smith made a lay up to pull the Illini to within seven points of the lead and then sophomore Chelsea Gordon made a quick steal and three-pointer to bring the score to 33-29 in favor of Penn State before heading into the locker room at the half.

Despite the supposed shift in momentum, the Illini allowed Penn State to push its lead back to eight points two minutes after play continued in the second half.

The Illini battled the rest of the way, cutting the Penn State lead down to just four points numerous times before the Nittany Lions put the game away. Penn State scored the final eight points of the game to equal its largest lead of the night at 12 points and finish the game off with a final score of 61-49.

Penn State’s Amanda Brown set a Big Ten Tournament record for rebounds in a single game with 18.

Brown also scored a game-high 19 points.

“There was an extra emphasis (on rebounding),” Brown said. “But every game we go into, it’s one of our goals to out-rebound them. Whether it was Illinois or some other team, we go out there and our big emphasis is to out-rebound them.”

Sophomore guard Lori Bjork, who led the Illini in scoring in the regular season, scored just four points and failed to make a three-pointer for the first time in 36 games.

For the first time in 12 years, the Illini failed to see a single player score in double digits.

Five players had six points and junior guard Rebecca Harris led all scorers for the Illini with just eight points.

The Illini will now have to wait to learn of their postseason fate until the March 12 selections for the NCAA Tournament and WNIT are made.

“Always hope, always hope,” Grentz said. “But it’s living dangerously – extremely dangerously. We lost the last regular season game, and we lost this one. Probably not a good situation, but we’ll see.”