Illinois women’s basketball stuns Purdue late

By Joey Figueroa

In an arena where they haven’t won in 10 years, the Illinois women’s basketball team used a second-half surge to come from behind and beat Purdue 47-46 on Saturday at Mackey Arena.

The comeback victory over the Boilermakers marked just the fifth time in school history that the Illini left West Lafayette, Ind., with a win.

In order to do so, Illinois nearly doubled its first-half scoring output in the second half. A three-pointer from junior guard Kyley Simmons with just over a minute left gave the Illini their first and only lead of the game. That lead would hold as the Illini shut down the paint and forced the Boilermakers to try to beat them from the perimeter.

“We just wanted to make sure we stopped penetration and make them have to take a jump shot,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “They were struggling shooting the ball from the perimeter.”

Bollant said the game plan down the stretch was to keep the ball out of Purdue guard April Wilson’s hands to keep the Boilermakers from moving the ball up the court quickly and instead, eat up clock. That plan worked, and the Illini forced a shot clock violation with 40 seconds remaining in the game and escaped with a one-point win.

As the final score suggests, both teams struggled shooting the ball and finding rhythms offensively. Illinois and Purdue combined to shoot a mere 18 percent from beyond the three-point arc, and neither team eclipsed 40 percent shooting from the field. Neither team faltered as much as the Illini did in the first half, though.

Illinois was held to just 16 first-half points and trailed by as much as 13 early on. The Illini knocked down just six shots in the entire opening half and even went through a near nine-minute stretch of scoreless basketball, during which they shot 0-for-20 from the field.

Despite the poor shooting half, the Illini trailed by just eight heading into the locker room, and Bollant thought his team held the momentum.

“This was the best I’ve felt being down eight in a game in a long time, because we just didn’t play well offensively,” Bollant said. “I knew if we got going offensively, we’d have a shot.”

Illinois went from shooting 16 percent in the first half to shooting 40 percent in the second, holding Purdue to just 22 second-half points to pull out the win.

Freshman center Chatrice White led the Illini with 14 points and 10 rebounds, her sixth double-double of the season.

With seven points, senior guard Ivory Crawford was held to single-digit scoring for the first time since Nov. 20. She still had a large hand in Illinois’ win, though, grabbing five steals, including the steal that led to Simmons’ go-ahead three.

“Great lesson for basketball players,” Bollant said. “Ivory really struggled offensively, but a couple steals on the defensive end led to a couple big baskets for us. Keep playing defense, keep fighting.”

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