Illinois women’s basketball loses seventh straight

When Ivory Crawford’s name was announced in the starting five for Illinois on Sunday, the Illini faithful got loud. The excitement lasted well into the first half, but not much longer. Wisconsin busted out of its four-game losing skid with a 73-62 win over Illinois at State Farm Center. With the deficit only at four points at halftime, Illinois fell behind quickly to begin the second half.

“Thursday (against Nebraska), I was so proud of our players and the fight and resiliency that they showed,” head coach Matt Bollant said of Illinois’ previous game. “I really expected to see that today. But, for whatever reason, we didn’t have that.”

Illinois’ depth was tested in six games without Crawford, who was out with a knee injury. Although Crawford returned Sunday, depth was still a problem. Bollant had to use a plethora of unusual lineups because of foul trouble. Chatrice White fouled out early in the second half and Crawford followed suit a few minutes later. Jacqui Grant was off the court for much of the back end of the second half because of fouls, and Brittany Carter faced a similar situation.

“We have to play smarter,” Bollant said. “We just foul a lot, and we just have to be more disciplined.”

The foul trouble for many of the starters forced Bollant to look further down his bench in search of production. Late in the game, Illinois shifted to a five-guard lineup and received a lot of production from sophomore Ashley McConnell and senior Nia Oden. McConnell was perfect from 3-point range on three attempts, and Oden scored six points and snagged four rebounds, of which Bollant was proud.

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Although her return to the lineup was spoiled by the loss, Crawford played a significant role for the Illini. With 12 points and six rebounds, the most impressive part of Crawford’s first game in about a month was her attacking mentality. Her response to the lack of hesitation in her game was simply “just play ball.”

Kiley Simmons, who scored a team-high 16 points, ran the point in almost all of the lineups that Bollant put on the floor. Simmons felt it made a difference having Crawford back on the court, from more than just a scoring perspective.

“She brings that aggression all the time and it’s just fun to play with someone who plays like that,” Simmons said.

The defensive mismatches Illinois faced came primarily with Wisconsin’s two 6-foot-4 posts. Wisconsin grabbed a season-high 50 rebounds as a team, 11 of which came from sophomore Malayna Johnson, her career high.

“I was proud of Malayna,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “She’s never gotten 11 rebounds. But she’s capable, so now that’s my expectation.”

The loss knocks the Illini to 11-11 overall and 2-8 in conference play with their losing streak now up to seven games.

“Those on the floor at the end fought and tried, but we didn’t start the game that way,” Bollant said. “We didn’t start the second half that way, which is disappointing.”

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @BLerner10.