LIVE! women's exhibition

Final: Illinois 78, Cardinal Stritch 49

As expected, the Illini roll to victory in an exhibition against the NAIA Division II opponent.

Junior guard Taylor Tuck led an ultra-balanced Illini attack with 14 points. Four other players had between 11 and 12 points.

Freshman post Jacqui Grant grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for Illinois.

A notes story on today's game, with reaction from UI coach Matt Bollant and some of his players,  will be posted later.

6:58  left in second half:

Illinois 73, Cardinal Stritch 35

-- Illini putting on a late surge while putting away its overmatched exhibition opponent.

-- Scoring balance continues to be a postitive for Illinois. Seven players have scored between 7 and 14 points.

-- Cardinal Stritch coach John Pfaffl working hard to make this a teaching experience for his players. Using all his timeouts to try to help his team regroup.

-- In case you wondered, yes the Illini band and cheerleaders are here for this exhibition. Maybe they need the practice, too, although the band sounds like its usual terrific self. I do wish the variety of tunes was greater. If you attend a lot of Illini athletic events, you know this music in your sleep.

****

12:44 left in second half:

Illinois 58, Cardinal Stritch 29

-- We're guessing defense was addressed at halftime by Illini coach Matt Bollant. Cardinal Stritch has managed merely eight points in the seven-plus minutes.

-- Taylor Tuck is having a very good game. The junior guard leads Illinois in scoring (12 points) and has a couple of steals and one block. She wasn't mentioned prominently in the run-up to this season, but her performance today indicates she could be a significant member of the rotation, even after injured guard Alexis Smith returns.

-- Freshman guard Taylor Gleason continues to impress. Plays with a high basketball IQ and good anticipation (drew a foul on one noteable play). She's scored 10 points.

-- Illini getting a needed boost on the boards from freshman post Sarah Livingston. She leads her team with seven rebounds.

-- As stingy as the Illini defense has been, the offense hasn't exactly been on fire. Has 14 points so far this half; nothing like that 20-point salvo to the first five minutes of thsi game.

****

-- Since Illinois bolted to an 20-2 lead, this has been a pretty competitive game, which can't make Illini coach Matt Bollant happy. His team has outscored Cardinal Stritch only 24-19 following that game-opening breakout.

-- Freshman guard Ashley McConnell was the third Illini off the bench, and junior guard/forward Nia Oden was the fourth. By my count, Illini have only nine players available due to injuries, unless the team recently has added a walk-on or two.

-- Seven of the nine Illini players have scored. Still a very balanced attack; those seven have scored between four and eight points.

-- Freshman post Jacqui Grant showed a nice outside touch on one of her two field goals.

-- Bollant can't be happy with the turnovers; up to 14. Or the fouls (13), The Wolves are 10 of 15 at the foul line, accounting for almost half of their points there.

-- If the Illini had avoided the fouls, this might be a much more lopsided game. Cardinal Stritch is only 5 of 30 from the field (16.7 percent) and 1 of 5 on three-pointers.

-- Illinois losing the rebound battle 26-19. Wolves killed Bollant's team on the offensive boards 14-5. Hasn't hurt on the scoreboard, however. Cardinal Stritch has only five second-chance points.

-- Spotted Illini AD Mike Thomas here.

****

-- Modest-size crowd, but they're making some noise. With no Bears game on TV, had wondered whether attendance would be higher than this. Apparently not.

-- All seven Illini players who've gotten in the game have scored. A balanced attack, too. Amber Moore leads with eight points.

-- Helped by transition baskets, Illini shooting 60 percent. Doing well from long range, too (40 percent on threes). Not so much at foul line; 2 for 6 there (33.3 percent).

-- Pressure defense has been effective (eight steals and 16 Cardinal Stritch turnovers), but Illini need to work on ball security themselves. Have eight turnovers.

****

-- First off the bench for the Illini were a pair of freshmen: guard Taylor Gleason and forward Sarah Livington. Gleason hit her first three-point shot attempt, and Livingston also hit her first shot, a two, but she was back on the bench pretty quickly after picking up two fouls.

-- Led by sharp-shooter Amber Moore, Illini doing well from long range. Have hit 3 of 7 three-pointers.

-- Cardinal Stritch winning some of the battles inside. With two freshmen posts in Grant and Livingston, that's going to be one of the potential areas of concern with this Illini team.

****

-- No contest at all. Illini having their way with the NAIA Division II team.

-- Newly eligible Illini point guard Sarah Hartwell has been particularly impressive. The Georgia Tech transfer already has seven points as well as two assists.

-- Cardinal Stritch having fits with Illini quickness. With 17:25 left, Wolves already have four fouls.

****

Matt Bollant is starting the five Illini players we listed earlier in this report.

We did a double-take during the pregame player introductions. Announcer said Illini redshirt sophomore guard Sarah Hartwell is from Port Washington, Wis. Nope. She's from Tacoma, Wash. Announcer likely looked at the Cardinal Stritch roster. First name listed for the Wolves is from Port Washington.

***

While we're waiting for tip-off, wanted to pass along word that this was a historic day for UI wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden, who  completed an unprecedented marathon "Grand Slam."

McFadden, 24, won the New York City Marathon women's wheelchair race Sunday after taking the titles in London, Boston and Chicago earlier this year. No other athlete has won those four races in the same year.

***

Welcome to our live report from State Farm Center for today's women's basketball exhibition game between the Illini and Cardinal Stritch University of Milwaukee.

This is the 2013-14 Illini's public debut and first time fans will see a team that lost its two best players -- All-American Karisma Penn and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Adrienne GodBold -- from last season's 19-14 squad.

In regard to that, here's a great stat that the team's sports information director -- Ben Taylor -- researched: Illinois ranks ninth among Big Ten teams  in percentage of points returning from last season at 54.1.

Who will fill the void? The likeliest candidates are veterans Amber Moore and Ivory Crawford as well as newly eligible point guard Sarah Hartwell, a transfer from Georgia Tech.

The Illini will be without two other returnees today. Junior Alexis Smith, the team's starting point guard last season, is sidelined by a foot injury. Earlier this week, coach Matt Bollant said she likely won't be able to play until the team's second game of the season Nov. 12 against Valparaiso.

Sophomore forward Mckenzie Piper is out after suffering a concussion. When she might return, Bollant said, remains uncertain.

On Thursday, we asked Bollant to give us his probable starting lineup. He listed Moore, Crawford, Hartwell, junior guard Taylor Tuck and freshman center Jacqui Grant. That last name was revealing because Bollant has been highly complimentary of freshman forward Sarah Livington, another candidate for the "5" or post position, during the preseason. It appears Grant has Bollant's attention, too.

When we asked Bollant for his top three off the bench at this point, he did list Livington as well as freshman guards Taylor Gleason and Ashley McConnell. The latter is a preferred walkon who apparently is making a positive impression.

The departure of Penn, in particular, has led to a switch in the Illini's offensive schme. The emphasis last season was to use a dribble-drive offense and look to feed Penn in the post. This season, Bollant will utilize a dribble motion offense, which is his preferred system and which suits the current guard-heavy roster.

From the Illini's perspective, the focus of today's exhibition is on them and not the opponent. It's about taking what they've been working on in practice and translating it to an actual game with refs making calls and fans watching (they hope cheering) from the stands. And it's about Bollant learning more about his team and taking that information into future practices.

What about the opponent? Cardinal Stritch is an NAIA Division II member that is highly respected at its level. The Wolves were ranked No. 15 in the national preseason poll.

Cardinal Stritch returns three of its four top scorers and was the stingiest in its conference last season in average points allowed.

In a scheduling oddity, the Wolves are playing this exhibition two days after opening their regular season. Cardinal Stritch rolled to an 85-50 victory on Friday night against Viterbo University at LaCrosse, Wis.

Senior guard Julie Raeder scored a team-high 14 points for the Wolves, and junior forward Michelle Piepenburg recorded a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds).

As Illini fans learned last year, look for Bollant's team to pressure the ball in a bid force and convert off of turnovers. Defense was a major component of Illinois' success last season, when it set a Big Ten record for single-season steals (408) and broke Big Ten records for steals (232) and steals per game (12.9) in a conference season.

We'll update this report throughout the game so be sure to check back in.

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