Illini women’s basketball can’t repeat dream run

By Anthony Zilis

The stage was set for a storybook upset for the Illinois women’s basketball team as it played No. 12 Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament Friday evening.

The Illini looked to repeat their championship game run against the same team they beat last year in the second round.

As it turned out, the Illini weren’t even close, as they were crushed by the Buckeyes, 70-53.

It took only seconds for the floodgates to open, as the Buckeyes shot a perfect 10-10 in the first seven minutes of the game, giving themselves a comfortable 20-7 lead.

“Anytime you go on a run of the amount of shots we made in a row … sometimes that makes you very nervous because you know its going to change,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said.

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“What gave me a comfortable feeling was how hard we were playing on the defensive end of the floor.”

The Illini, on the other hand, started the game with four turnovers in the first five minutes.

The offensive precision and flow they showed in Thursday’s victory over Penn State was absent from the opening tip.

“I think we were … too anxious to start out,” said freshman guard Lydia McCully, who was responsible for two of the quick turnovers.

“Any time a team goes up on you straight from the beginning, it kind of puts you on your heels a little bit. I think if you’re a strong team you’ve just got to regroup and overcome that, and I don’t think we did a good job of doing that.”

The Illini went into the locker room down 41-19, looking every bit of the young, raw team that lost 16 of 17 early in the season, as opposed to the team that won six out of its last 10.

“We weren’t talking or communicating like we were yesterday,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. “I just think that some of my freshmen were a little nervous.”

The nerves were understandable for the young players, who matched up against the best team in the Big Ten for the third time this season.

The freshmen, though, don’t blame the start on being wide-eyed.

“We just weren’t playing defense, and defense creates our offense,” freshman guard Fabiola Josil said. “Intimidation wasn’t really a factor.”

Whether or not intimidation was a factor, Ohio State simply had more offensive weapons than the Illini.

In addition to Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender, who had 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Samantha Prahalis dazzled fans with no-look, backward and through-the-legs passes on her way to nine assists.

Brittany Johnson also helped Ohio State’s shoot 57.4 percent with a perfect 7-for-7 performance for 16 points.

Although the Illini weren’t even close to the unforgettable run that they had hoped for, Law still envisioned what could have been.

“If we got past this one, I thought we could win the championship,” she said. “I wish we would’ve played a better first half. Things would’ve been different.”