Boilermakers tower over Illini women in 68-50 win

Purdues FahKara Malone, front, steals the ball from Illinois Lydia McCully during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009, in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue beat Illinois 68-50. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)


Purdue’s FahKara Malone, front, steals the ball from Illinois’ Lydia McCully during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009, in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue beat Illinois 68-50. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)

By Bret Greenberg

After winning the tip, Sunday’s game went downhill fast for Illinois women’s basketball team. On its first offensive possession, freshman Fabiola Josil turned the ball over for an uncontested Purdue layup. That set the tone for the Illini, who could not contain the Boilermakers’ offense in their 68-50 debacle at Mackey Arena.

It also didn’t hurt that Purdue played one of its best halves of basketball this season.

“Tonight we did some things offensively that we haven’t done all year,” Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp said. “We totally executed and saw how they were playing. It was fun, and you could see how much energy the kids get when they knock down shots. Those (first) 12 minutes were the best offense we’ve had all year.”

On a day the Illini wore pink jerseys to raise breast cancer awareness, Purdue’s crowd was full of energy that seemed to be contagious for the home team.

Point guard FahKara Malone set the tempo early, finding her post players open down low and exploiting Illinois’ shorter lineup. Illini juniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson seemed to be overmatched by Purdue’s frontcourt.

The Boilermakers’ three-headed monster of a frontcourt consisted of 6-foot-4 Danielle Campbell, 6-foot-2 Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and 6-foot-1 Lakisha Freeman.

They accounted for 37 of the team’s 68 points and, more importantly, helped to draw eight combined fouls on Smith and Simpson.

“Wisdom-Hilton is just a great player,” Smith said. “She has great moves and she’s a great face-up player. If we fronted her they would lob it, and if we three-quartered her they gave her a nice pass. She’s just so diverse that she will get you any way.”

With about nine minutes left in the first half and Illinois trailing by seven, Simpson picked up her second foul, forcing head coach Jolette Law to send her to the bench.

Purdue’s lead then ballooned to 14, which deflated Illinois and played right into the heckling of Purdue’s rowdy band members.

“There’s a rule that I have, if you pick up two, I don’t care who you are, you’re sitting down,” Law said.

But even with Law’s starting lineup on the court, the perimeter players were not hitting their shots all game. Afterward, Law questioned her player’s decisions on offense.

“There were a lot of open shots we didn’t take,” Law said. “We were hesitant. I had to pull Lydia McCully aside and tell her ‘You’re open, take the shots.’ They were sagging and double teaming Jenna. So until you hit shots, they’re going to continue to sag and double team (Jenna).”

But even when shots went up, they rarely went in. Players not named Simpson or Smith shot an abysmal 7-25. With the shots not falling, the Illini seemed to finish out the game on autopilot.

In the past, the Illini have needed production from the whole squad to pull out victories.

But with three games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament and a record of 8-18 (4-11), nothing can extinguish Smith’s optimism.

“We need to compete and win these next three games,” Smith said. “Yeah, we lost this one, but we have three games left and the Big Ten Tournament, so anything can happen.”