STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Attention, Big Ten Conference women's basketball teams: There is hope after all when you step on Penn State's court.
Illinois emphatically proved that Friday night, striking a blow for the rest of the league and striking a blow to the Nittany Lions' longstanding home mastery over Big Ten rivals.
By defeating Penn State 85-74, the Illini handed the Nittany Lions their first-ever home loss against a Big Ten team. Penn State was 34-0 in such matchups.
"This is good, it's really good," said UI forward Nicole Vasey, a junior who had been 0-2 in her career against the Nittany Lions. "It's really hard to win in Penn State, but we just stuck together and won as a team."
The victory moved the second-place Illini, 13-4 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten, within a half-game of league leader Michigan State. The Spartans, 5-1, were idle Friday. Both teams return to action Sunday, the Illini taking on Indiana at 2 p.m. at Huff Hall and Michigan State playing host to Michigan.
Penn State fell to 8-6 and 1-3.
Ahead 38-35 at halftime, the Illini stunned Penn State with a 23-5 run to open the second half. Repeatedly breaking the Nittany Lions' press, Illinois rolled to a 61-40 lead with 13:17 left. The Illini later led by as many as 22 points.
"It's never easy to break Penn State's press, but we were able to find a loophole," UI coach Theresa Grentz said. "When they trapped us up front, we were able to go (pass) over the top and were able to score."
Ashley Berggren, moved from forward to off guard for the game, bounced back from a four-point first half to score 19 in the second. The Illini junior shot 7 of 10 from the field after the break.
"They just couldn't stop her," Vasey said. "Ashley's an aggressive player, and the girl against her was a little short and weak, and (assistant) Coach (Kathy) McConnell kept telling her to take it to the basket."
Besides leading all scorers with 23 points, Berggren also had game highs of 10 assists and six steals.
Vasey grabbed 14 rebounds, one above her previous career high, and scored 17 points.
"All I know is at Michigan (on Sunday), I didn't have very good game," Vasey said, "and Coach talked about defense and rebounding in practice this week. My goal for myself ... was to play the best defense and get every rebound I can."