Illinois women’s basketball falls to Bradley in season opener

The Illini women’s basketball team is in need of a rebound just one game into the season.

After a 98-92 loss on the road at Bradley in Peoria, Ill., the Illini will look to bounce back in the home opener against Valparaiso on Tuesday.

“I’m really disappointed in the way we guarded,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “The most aggressive team gets to the foul line, and we weren’t the most aggressive team in that second half, and it’s really disappointing.”

Despite heading into the half with a 52-41 lead, free throws ultimately made the difference. The Illini only got to the foul line two times all game, hitting both, while the Braves took 25 in the game, hitting 21. Nineteen of Bradley’s free throw attempts came in the second half, allowing the Braves to go on a 28-10 run to gain a lead they would never give up.

“Talking on defense and offense is always the key to success,” senior guard Amber Moore said. “We came out (of the half) not talking and when we’re not talking on defense, we’re not looking as good. We kind of came out a little passive and unsure of our defense. We were up in the first half because we were talking. That was the key.”

Scoring points wasn’t an issue for Illinois, as guards Sarah Hartwell, Ivory Crawford and Moore accounted for 63 of the team’s 92 points, with Crawford leading the team with 24 points. The trio also shot well from behind the arc, hitting 12 threes on 23 attempts, accounting for all of Illinois’ 3-point scoring. The team shot 44.4 percent overall from the 3-point line.

Size proved to be an issue for the Illini, however. The Braves were able to grab 48 rebounds to the Illini’s 32. Bradley’s 5-foot-10-inch guard Catie O’Leary managed to grab 18 rebounds, 16 of them defensive. Three other Braves grabbed six rebounds or more. For Illinois, freshman forward Jacqui Grant used her 6-foot-3-inch frame to nab 14 rebounds, but she was only one of four Illini to grab one. Freshman forward Sarah Livingston, who was expected to produce rebounds, fouled out in just 13 minutes, failing to grab a single board. She was two of two from the field in her brief appearance, scoring five points.

“I thought Jacqui gave us a lift,” Bollant said. “She certainly got her hands in a lot of plays and got the offensive boards. I think she could have made a few more of her looks inside, but overall she gave us a lift and showed she’s got a lot of potential.”

Grant grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, but was inefficient from the field. The freshman was given the second most attempts on the team with 17, but was only able to convert six of them for 12 points. She also recorded a team-high two blocks.

Hartwell, who made her regular season debut as the starting point guard, turned in the team’s most impressive offensive showing, hitting eight of her 10 shots, including two of three threes, for 18 points before fouling out in 22 minutes.

The sophomore’s distribution could have been better, as she assisted on three baskets but turned the ball over four times. Bollant said the mistakes will come, and she’ll have to adjust as the season goes on.

In order to rebound in their next game, the Illini will have to play their game for all 40 minutes and not allow any defensive lapses.

“It’s obvious we can score points, and that’s not going to be an issue this year,” Moore said when asked what positives the team can take away from the loss. “We have to make stops at the defensive end, and that’s something that our coaching staff has been stressing since they got to Illinois. We just have to take pride in it and trust each other and get better at it every day and just have that fight each and every day.”

Blake can be reached at [email protected].