Women’s basketball presses on, fails to deliver once again

By Wesley Deberry

In the presidential primaries, one lost state can make or break a candidate’s dream of becoming the presidental nominee. In the quest for an NCAA Tournament bid, one game can be the difference.

Going into their game against Minnesota’s Golden Gophers after two straight Big Ten wins, the Illinois women’s basketball team had the momentum of a strong campaign going into Super Tuesday.

But in a situation all too familiar this season, the Illini came out on the losing end of a close game 61-56.

Throughout the game it was a back-and-forth battle for the Illini with several lead changes, both during the first and second halves. Uncharacteristic from their last game, the Illini turned the ball over 13 times during the game while Minnesota turned the ball over eight times.

“Minnesota scored when they needed to score,” said Illinois head coach Jolette Law. “We made our run and got up three and then they took it to another level.”

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Gopher center Ashley Ellis-Milan led the team in scoring and rebounding with 20 points and nine rebounds. Guard Emily Fox contributed 16 points and forward Leslie Knight contributed 11 points with six rebounds, good enough to rank second for the team.

“I have to give them a lot of credit,” Law said. “They were the aggressors for most of the game.”

Due to the Gophers’ intensity, Minnesota was able to get to the foul line 20 times in the game, converting 14 of their shots from the charity stripe. While the Illini were not able to get to the line that often they did finish with a higher free throw average of 77 percent, making 7 of 9 from the line.

While Illini center Jenna Smith was double- and triple-teamed from the beginning of the game, she still managed to score 16 points. Her fellow teammate Lori Bjork scored the most points with 18.

“We made some adjustments and were able to get both Jenna and Lori some looks in the second half, but we just weren’t able to knock down enough shots down the stretch,” Law said.

The long ball may have been the difference for the Illini. In the first half both Minnesota and Illinois shot 41 percent from the field.

However, the Illini shot 23 percent from three-point range during the half while Minnesota shot 40 percent.

In the second half the Illini’s luck from three-point range improved by 10 percentage points, but it was still not enough as they finished the game 7 of 25 from three-point range. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s three-point average was not phenomenal at 33 percent. They only shot nine threes in the game.

Minnesota’s timely scoring included an 8-0 run with just under seven minutes remaining to give the Golden Gophers a five-point lead.

The Illini will return to action at Assembly Hall on Sunday at 1 p.m. to face the Indiana Hoosiers.