Defense helps Illini overcome poor shooting in win over Salukis

It wasn’t pretty, but the Illinois women’s basketball team got it’s fourth win of the season Thursday night, beating Southern Illinois 78-43

The Illini hit season-lows in field goal percentage (39.2), 3-point percentage (22.2), 3-pointers made (four), free throw percentage (66.7) and points. The usual suspects showed up for Illinois, as senior guard Amber Moore, junior guard Ivory Crawford and freshman forward Jacqui Grant led the team in points, scoring 14, 14 and 15 respectively.

“Even though we didn’t have our best shooting night, we defended really well,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “We took away what their strengths were, their inside play and their penetration. I’m really proud of this team.”

Sophomore guard Sarah Hartwell had the most complete stat line of the night, recording nine points, a career-high seven assists and a career-high nine rebounds. Hartwell struggled from the field, hitting only two of nine shots, but supplemented her line by going 5-for-6 from the free-throw line.

“I didn’t think I had a great performance,” Hartwell said. “Coach said ‘grind it out, every game isn’t going to be perfect, so just keep when it’s not going your way.’”

A sloppy first half for both teams allowed the Salukis to stay within 10 points for a majority of time until the Illini went on a 13-0 run in the waning minutes of the half, giving them a 20-point cushion at the break. Illinois held Southern Illinois to only 20 percent shooting overall and 8.3 percent from 3-point land in the half; however, the Illini themselves weren’t much better, as they were only able to hit 39 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes.

The Illini contained the Salukis for the entire second half, never letting them within 17 points. Illinois extended its lead to 39 at one point. Despite a rough shooting night for Illinois, the offense protected the ball by turning it over only 13 times, tying a season low.

“We have a ton of possessions the way we play,” Bollant said. “I think 13 is a good number. I especially love to see 16 assists and more assists than turnovers. Obviously that’s a goal to have that. I think we’ve really grown in our ability to take care of the basketball.”

The team also rebounded well, providing 19 second chance opportunities on offense and accounted for 56 total rebounds, a season high. The defense also accounted for Southern Illinois’ top two players, holding guard Cartaesha Macklin and forward Dyana Pierre to a combined 4-of-19 shooting night for 12 points and eight turnovers.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]