Women’s basketball outshoots Wildcats, rises in rankings

After five turnover-laden minutes that saw just four total points scored — all free throws — the Illinois football team filed into the Assembly Hall to watch the Illini women’s basketball team take on Northwestern. With the football players — clad in orange jerseys — seated on the east baseline bleachers, the Illini went on a 12-2 tear and went on to win, 69-57.

“It was awesome having them,” head coach Jolette Law said. “Coach (Tim) Beckman and that team, they really gave us that sixth man. They came in, and my girls started playing really aggressive.”

Law joked that the football team tested her team’s focus.

“The bench was over looking at the guys,” Law said. “I’m like focus, focus, focus. But no, it was great having them there and supporting us.”

While most of the football team left after halftime, the Illini, fueled by a dominant performance from Amber Moore, kept on rolling, leading by as many as 20 points in the second half.

“Our defense created our offense,” Moore said. “Whenever we were aggressive and playing the passing lanes, we were able to create our offense, and we were able to move the ball around and knock down shots.”

The sophomore guard torched the Wildcats for 31 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including 5-for-7 from three. Moore displayed a versatile offensive game, scoring in multiple ways, from turnaround jump shots to step-back 3-pointers. She extended her previous career high of 27 points to 31 on late-game free throws.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the country that shoots the ball the way she can shoot it,” Law said. “Once she hits one or two, I’m like, ‘OK, we just got to keep it on her.’ She played extremely well.”

Adrienne GodBold contributed 13 points and five steals for Illinois. Senior guard Lydia McCully led the team in rebounding and assists with eight and four in her last home game at the Assembly Hall.

“I don’t really have any words for it, the way I feel,” McCully said. “At first I said it was bittersweet, but now, it’s more on the bitter side to realize that it really is coming to an end. I think you realize how much tears and sweat I’ve put in here at the University of Illinois, and I really love it here.”

McCully and fellow seniors Lana Rukavina, Eboni Mitchell and Macie Blinn were joined on the floor by their families and honored prior to tipoff.

“It was a very emotional night,” Rukavina said. “We are so grateful for all the opportunities the University and coach Law has given us. To realize that this is our last game, our last home game in front of our fans, our home base. It’s very tough to deal with.”

While McCully is the only senior who starts and routinely logs significant minutes, Law started all four alongside Karisma Penn on Monday. She returned to her normal rotation about three minutes into the game, inserting usual starters Moore, Alexis Burke and Ivory Crawford for Rukavina, Mitchell and Blinn. All three saw action later in the game.

“We’ve been through a lot the past four years,” Law said. “I told Lana we are not crying because it’s not over. They’ve been my rock since I’ve been here. I didn’t recruit them, but these are my kids.”

With the win, Illinois (11-17, 5-10 Big Ten) jumped Northwestern (14-13, 4-10) in the conference standings and currently sit at ninth in the Big Ten, while the Wildcats drop to 10th.

The Illini have won five of their last eight and have one more game to improve their positioning in the conference before the Big Ten Tournament, where Law’s teams have historically found success. Last season, Illinois became the first No. 11 seed to advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

“Something goes off late and we go to the tournament and it’s just like woah, we just become this dynamic team,” Law said.

“Right now we’re peaking at the right time,” Law said. “Hopefully we can go to Wisconsin and get a win. It’s anybody’s ball game.

It’s March madness. Right now we are playing well; we have depth. We have different people that are stepping up and playing well for us. We have nothing to lose, everything to gain.”