Illini women’s basketball fails to end skid, loses to Michigan 70-63

The Illinois women’s basketball (9-16, 2-10 Big Ten) team could not get over the hump on a day where it traded basket after basket with Michigan (15-10, 6-6), as well as its orange and blue uniforms for pink on “Play 4 Kay” day at State Farm Center.

The 70-63 loss marks the team’s seventh in a row. The Illini have not won a home game in conference play this season.

Post play proved to be the difference, as Michigan fed bigs Cyesha Goree and Val Driscoll constantly for easy baskets. Goree, who came into the game averaging 11.5 points per game, exploded for a career-high 30 points and 19 rebounds, with 19 of her points coming in the first half.

“We just didn’t have an answer for (Goree),” head coach Matt Bollant said. “Obviously she was the difference in the game. Our inability to keep her off the glass, I thought she was really good. We just didn’t do a good job of keeping her from getting boards.” 

A large portion of the Wolverines’ points in the paint resulted from their dominant rebounding. The 6-foot-3 Goree and 6-foot-4 Driscoll were overpowering, as the duo grabbed 38 percent of the game’s total rebounds, and Illinois was outrebounded 48 to 19.

Bollant looked to his bench early and often for a spark, and he seemed to have found one in guard Taylor Tuck. The junior did her best Ivory Crawford impersonation and anchored a struggling Illini offense when Crawford had to sit out with foul trouble. Tuck was aggressive with her drives, getting to the line five times and even knocked down a 3-pointer in what was her best game of the season. She finished with career-high of 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Crawford herself could never get into a rhythm, finishing with seven points and taking only five shots, but guard Amber Moore conveniently regained her shooting stroke to keep the Illini in the game. The senior scored 19 points, making five threes in the process.

“It was probably one of my best games since I’ve been at Illinois,” Tuck said. 

With no true way to stop the bleeding on the glass, the Illini relied heavily on the hands of their guards, who frequently generated turnovers and steals late in the game to close the gap. Illinois did its best to keep Michigan on the perimeter, but almost every missed shot resulted in an offensive rebound. The game was never out of reach for the Illini, as the Wolverines’ lead fluctuated from 12 points to two points at times in the second half. Down the stretch, however, the Illinois offense couldn’t get its long-range shots to fall, ultimately costing the Illini the game.

Bollant singled out his team’s lack of a consistent scorer as the team’s Achilles’ heel this season.

“Different players are stepping up on different nights, so we can’t rely on that same kid,” Bollant said. “It’s hard … to know who to put in and who to play when they play one way that game and a different way the next game. Our inconsistency as a team is hurting our team.” 

Blake can be reached at [email protected]