UI gangs up on Aussies

UI gangs up on Aussies

   CHAMPAIGN  No Ashley Berggren atop the scoring list? No problem.

   If this exhibition season is any indication, the University of Illinois women''s basketball team is ready, willing and able to fill the void when opponents gang up on their All-America candidate.

   "Definitely," Berggren said after watching four teammates score in double figures Sunday in the Illini''s 115-84 victory over the Brisbane (Australia) Blazers at Huff Hall. "On any given night, anybody can ... provide just as much as I can."

   During each of the past two seasons, Berggren has provided more points than anyone in an Illini uniform. In fact, two years ago, the 5-foot-10 guard scored more points in a season (689) than any player in UI history. Now No. 4 on the school''s career scoring list, the senior needs 450 points to become its all-time leading scorer.

   And don''t think opponents aren''t aware of such things.

   "I think what you''re going to find this year is when people get our media guide and get our press clippings, they''re automatically going to go to Ashley Berggren," UI coach Theresa Grentz said. "And rightfully so. Ashley Berggren is an All-American.

   "Now every team will be gunning for her. ... Even these international teams are not going to let (No.) 32 go where she wants to go. They''re all over her right now."

   Against the Blazers, Berggren was limited to 11 field goal attempts, including three in the second half. Her 17-point total included seven free throws.

   Same story in Illinois'' other exhibition game, when a team from Hungary held the reigning Big Ten Conference player of the year to nine shots. Six of her 16 points came at the foul line.

   In each case, Berggren ended up as her team''s fourth-leading scorer. And in each case, teammates more than picked up the slack: Illinois racked up a total of 223 points in the two games.

   On Sunday, Alicia Sheeler emerged as Illinois'' offensive leader with a game-high 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting. The junior forward also was the game''s leading rebounder with 12 as the Illini pummeled the Blazers on the boards 62-25.

   "I''ve been working hard all week, and it just seemed to get put together during the game," Sheeler said."

   Forward Tauja Catchings stung Brisbane for 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, giving her 41 points in two exhibition games.

   And guard Katie Coleman came off the bench to shoot 6 of 9 and score 18 points.

   "These women are stepping up," Grentz said. "(Opponents) are doubling up on Ashley, and they''re doing a lot of different things, which is opening it up for other players."

   Not that Berggren is content to play the role of magnet. After Sunday''s game, she talked of the importance of not getting lulled into a passive mentality on offense.

   "I think it''s important that I don''t really focus too much on passing the ball," she said, "because sometimes I become more complacent and my mentality is not to take it to the hoop and shoot it as much.

   "And I''ve got to make sure, although I want to pass to my teammates, that I still look for my shot when I have it."

   Sunday''s game, attended by 2,930 fans, marked the end of Illinois'' exhibition season. But before the seventh-ranked Illini looked forward to their season opener next Sunday against No. 3 Old Dominion, they looked back on a record-setting 1996-97 campaign.

   Before Sunday''s tip-off, a banner commemorating the program''s first Big Ten championship was raised to the rafters by Ann Henderson and Aimee Smith, seniors on that team. The banner joined another that salutes the team''s advancement to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.

   Then, UI associate directors of athletics Karol Kahrs and Dana Brenner presented players, coaches and support staff on that 24-8 squad with Big Ten championship rings.

   "It felt great, absolutely great," Grentz said of the banner-raising.

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