CHAMPAIGN — For all of the things that were going wrong — the turnovers that would pile up to a season high; the crooked second-half shooting; the fouls that had sent one starter to the bench for good and threatened to do the same to a couple others — Illinois still held the upper hand on Colorado with three minutes left.
Then, the Illini’s grasp suddenly loosened. And, just like that, Matt Bollant’s crew was left in the dust of a Buffaloes stampede Saturday at the Assembly Hall.
“Just really frustrated with the way it ended,” the UI coach said following the 69-62 nonconference loss to undefeated Colorado. “This would have been a good win. They’re 5-0 (now 6-0) for a reason. They beat a really good San Diego State team who pounded USC last night (80-46).”
Thanks to consecutive field goals by foul-plagued center Karisma Penn, Illinois took a 60-57 lead with 3:00 left on the clock. As it turned out, those were the last points the Illini would score until point guard Alexis Smith connected on a short jumper with four seconds left.
In the interim, Colorado rattled off 11 unanswered points to pull away to a 68-60 lead.
“We had our opportunities, even in the last three minutes,” Bollant said. “We let a team beat us tonight that I felt like we could have beat. And that’s disappointing.”
The Illini literally threw this one away. On three of its next five possessions after taking that 60-57 lead, Illinois turned the ball over. Technically, another of those possessions ended in a turnover, too, when Penn committed a lane violation on the second of two UI free throw attempts.
In all, the Illini were guilty of 27 turnovers. But so were the equally error-prone Buffaloes. So that category was a wash.
Not so second-half shooting. After closing the first half with a 10-1 run to take a 36-30 lead, Illinois shot 9 of 27 (33.3 percent) over the final 20 minutes. The Illini also went 7 of 16 from the foul line after sinking 11 of 12 in the first half.
Meanwhile, Colorado had its stroke going after the break, firing in 14 of 25 from the field.
“That was really disappointing,” Bollant said. “I just felt like we didn’t have a lot of fight in the second half. We didn’t dictate at all. They shot way too many layups.”
Illinois was still within 63-60 in the final minute when it appeared to force a Colorado turnover. However, an official ruled that the ball went out of bounds off an Illini player — a decision the crowd of 1,400 loudly disagreed with — and the Buffaloes retained possession. Freshman Arielle Roberson then buried Colorado’s only three-pointer of the game to put Illinois in a 66-60 hole with 37 seconds left.
Illini forward Taylor Tuck, who contributed 11 points off the bench, wasn’t about to point fingers at the official.
“I’m not sure who (the ball) went off of (out of bounds), but we can’t let refs dictate the game,” she said. “We have to step up and make a play whether we hit it out or they hit it out.”