CHAMPAIGN — Three days after his Illinois women’s basketball team yielded a whopping 90 points, the last thing Matt Bollant expected to see Sunday afternoon was a game-opening defensive meltdown.
But that was the cringe-inducing sight for the second-year Illini coach and 1,914 fans at State Farm Center, where an Indiana team trying to bounce back from its own recent ugly defeat rolled past the slumping hosts 77-58.
“(After) we gave up 90 points to Ohio State, I would have hoped that our effort and our intensity on the defensive end would be really good to start the game,” Bollant said. “To give up 34 points in the first nine minutes was disappointing.”
Led by the freshman guard trio of Alexis Gassion, Larryn Brooks and Taylor Agler — who combined for 51 points and 10 three-pointers — the Hoosiers had their way with Illinois’ defense while racing to a 34-15 lead.
Gassion played an unexpectedly big role in the Illini’s undoing. She entered shooting 2 of 16 from three-point range in eight previous Big Ten games. Against Illinois, the 5-foot-10 guard was virtually unstoppable from the arc — sinking 4 of 5 — or from any distance, for that matter. Gassion finished 8 of 10 from field, scoring 22 points to exceed her previous career high by nine.
“She got some rhythm threes early and got her confidence going,” Bollant said.
Confidence seemingly was no issue for an Indiana team that coach Curt Miller said had “hit rock-bottom” Thursday during a 58-52 home loss to Northwestern. Against an Illinois team that ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense, Indiana (16-6, 3-6 Big Ten) rediscovered its stroke, shooting 47.5 percent and making 9 of 11 foul shots.
“Give credit to them for a great (bounce-back) response,” Bollant said. “You learn a lot about kids with the way they respond.”
It was the kind of response Bollant expected from his team. Instead, the Illini (9-13, 2-7) continued on a downward spiral, losing for the eighth time in 10 games.
“We’ve been working on defense day in and day out, and we know we can’t win games without playing defense,” Illini senior wing Amber Moore said.
All-American on hand. On Wednesday, Illini signee Chatrice White was named a McDonald’s All-American. Two nights later, the 6-foot-3 senior center and her Shelby-Rising City High School teammates clinched a conference championship.
“It’s been a few good couple of days,” the Shelby, Neb., native said Sunday while watching her future team play at State Farm Center.
White, who was accompanied by her parents, said this was her fourth trip to the UI campus.
White will play in the McDonald’s All-America Game on April 2 in Chicago.
“We got a folder of the itinerary, she said. “I learned what the whole week consists of and all the gear we’re going to get.”
Also attending Sunday’s game was Illini recruiting target Tori McCoy. The St. Thomas More sophomore and Champaign native is the second-ranked player in the Class of 2016 by Blue Star Basketball.