Illinois fails to keep winning streak alive at Minnesota

The Illinois women’s basketball team has constantly stressed the importance playing with confidence. It rode that confidence to win four out of its last six games after starting 0-7 in conference.

But Illinois could not continue its recent hot streak, faltering at Minnesota on Thursday night 60-53.

“We have been in tight games all year,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. “We just have to learn how to finish games. It comes down to the little things: taking care of the ball, rebounding and executing when it counts. We have to make layups.”

Illinois (10-17, 4-10) stayed with Minnesota for most of the game Thursday and turned up the

defensive pressure to make the road contest ugly, forcing 21 steals and 27 Minnesota turnovers.

Illinois could not capitalize on its defensive effort, though, committing 20 turnovers of its own and shooting a paltry 32.2 percent from the field.

“We have to continue to stay positive,” Law said. “We were able to dictate on the defensive end, but ultimately we weren’t able to finish on offense. That was the difference in the game.”

Adrienne GodBold and Lydia McCully, who both tallied 13 points, led Illinois in scoring.

McCully shined in other facets of the game, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and forcing six steals.

Illinois remained even with Minnesota during the first eight minutes of the first half and then used a 17-2 run to gain a 23-13 advantage with 8:14 left before halftime.

But the Illini offense sputtered in the remainder of the half — keyed by the poor field goal percentage and turnovers – and Minnesota made a 13-2 run of its own to take a 26-25 lead heading into halftime.

“In the first half, we were able to turn defense into offense,” Law said. “We put a lot of pressure on them and we were able to finish. We weren’t able to do that in the second half.”

The early portions of the second half were still dictated by defense, and Illinois capitalized by gaining a four-point lead on two separate occasions.

Freshman Ivory Crawford gave Illinois its last lead on a 3-pointer with 7:30 left in the game. The Illini were unable to muster their offense the rest of the way, scoring only 10 points after the under-eight-minute media timeout.

Minnesota (14-14, 6-8) took advantage of Illinois’ offensive woes and Rachel Banham hit two 3-pointers — one of them as the shot clock expired — as the Golden Gophers outscored their opponent 18-10 in the final seven minutes.

“I just heard the fans counting down and I knew had to take the shot, and I’m glad it went in,” Banham said about her 3-pointer to seal the game. “I know last time I was struggling from the outside, and this game I was a little iffy at times. But I think (the shot) helped us out a little bit.”

Banham led Minnesota in scoring with 19 points and Kiara Buford added 12 points.

Thursday night’s loss prevents Illinois from surpassing Minnesota in the Big Ten standings and keeps the Illini in the 11th spot in the Big Ten.