Future unsure for women’s basketball

By Dave Fultz

The Illinois women’s basketball team started off its postseason on the wrong foot as it lost its quarterfinal match-up with Penn State. Now, the Illini will anxiously await the March 12 announcements for the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament and WNIT.

“Always hope, always hope,” head coach Theresa Grentz said after last Friday’s loss. “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.”

The Illini had the fourth seed in the conference and a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in seven years but couldn’t capitalize, losing to fifth-seeded Penn State on Friday, 61-49. Penn State led the game for all 40 minutes after it jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game.

After cutting the deficit to just four points by halftime, the Illini just couldn’t get over the hump against the Nittany Lions.

“We came back at the end of the half,” Grentz said. “They had the ball with 30-some seconds, we end up getting it back, stealing, scoring, come back again, hit a three, score five points in 17 seconds and yet struggle in a 20-minute period, so I don’t have an answer for you with that.”

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    This game was very important to the NCAA Tournament hopes of a team that has over-achieved in many people’s eyes for much of the season. After being picked by many to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten this season, the Illini fought their way to an 18-11 overall record and went 8-8 in conference play.

    The 8-8 record in conference play is much more impressive than it looks. Only three teams ahead of the fourth-place Illini (No. 5 Ohio State, No. 12 Purdue and No. 24 Michigan State) finished the regular season as nationally ranked teams.

    The Illini also had two players, sophomore guard Lori Bjork and freshman center Jenna Smith, pick up league honors before the start of the postseason. Bjork, who has transitioned to the role of the team’s primary point guard and leading scorer, was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team and Academic All-America Third Team for her successes this season. Smith, the team’s only freshman, was named an honorable mention All-Conference selection and was also named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

    But with all of the accolades and accomplishments that have come to the Illini over the course of the season, an NCAA Tournament selection would be the most special for this team. Grentz has stressed all season that the goals for this team would be set high.

    “The first thing you should learn in life,” Grentz said after Thursday’s practice, “is that you can never let anyone tell you how good you are or what you can or can’t do.”