Illinois women’s basketball loses close one to Northwestern

By Joey Figueroa

In a close matchup between in-state rivals, Northwestern got the better of Illinois with a 68-67 victory. In a game that went down to the wire, the Illini couldn’t find their offense when they needed it, and the Wildcats made clutch shots to pull away within the final minute.

“We just didn’t make the right plays to finish the game,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “We didn’t do a good job of keeping them off the foul line. I thought that we lacked a little bit of smart down the stretch.”

Illinois (11-8, 2-5 Big Ten) overcame a double-digit first half deficit to build a 12-point lead with 12 minutes left to play. Northwestern (14-4, 4-3) chipped away at the scoring margin with the help of 15 second-half free throw attempts, two more than Illinois had the entire game. The Wildcats eventually tied the game with a 3-pointer with just two minutes remaining.

Following Northwestern sophomore Christen Inman’s go-ahead bucket to give the Wildcats a 66-64 lead with one minute remaining, the Illini had an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but committed their most crucial turnover of the game. Northwestern held Illinois to just one field goal in the final three minutes of the game and escaped State Farm Center with a 68-67 win.

“We just had some crucial turnovers towards the end,” junior guard Brittany Carter said. “We just needed to be smarter. Smart was the part we were missing at the end of the game.”

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Following a sloppy start that had Illinois trailing by as much as 13 points early on, the Illini picked up their defensive intensity to bring themselves back into the game. To answer a 7-0 run by Northwestern, Illinois scored 11 straight points to tie the game with less than three minutes remaining in the half.

“We started playing Illinois basketball,” Carter said. “We started playing together, we started making extra passes.”

On the strength of a five straight points scored by freshman guard Amarah Coleman, the Illini took a 33-32 lead before the Wildcats answered and maintained a 36-33 lead heading into the locker room.

Freshman center Chatrice White attempted just two shots in the first half and bettered her matchup in the paint on each of those attempts, so the Illini made a concerted effort to feed her the ball to open the second half. White made the most of her looks and scored eight points in the first eight minutes of the second half, but had to watch from the sidelines for the final three minutes of the game after fouling out.

Due to Illinois’ continued lack of bench production, its starters played all but nine minutes of the game and accounted for all the team’s points.

“We’ve rotated about six or seven kids in the last three or four games and really haven’t had the lift that we need,” Bollant said. “Someone’s got to step up and make plays. We’ve got to figure that out, that’s a big piece moving forward.”

Illinois is now 2-5 in the Big Ten and has lost four consecutive games without senior guard Ivory Crawford, who has been out with a knee injury.

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3.