No flurry at finish

By: Aaron Portzline

By: Aaron Portzline

By: Aaron Portzline

By: Aaron Portzline

   COLUMBUS, Ohio  For two seasons, the Illinois women''s basketball team treated Ohio State like a fence post on the highway, blowing past the Buckeyes with little notice and even less difficulty.

   It''s not so easy anymore.

   Ohio State figured to be just young and scrappy enough to scare a few Big Ten opponents this season, but the Buckeyes are proving to be much more than that.

   Illinois found out the hard way Friday night, blowing an early lead and collapsing down the stretch to fall 70-67 before 5,918 at the Value City Arena.

   "They''re a totally different team," Illinois center Alicia Sheeler said. "They like to run and gun it and use their pressure to wear you down.

   "It didn''t work too well for them the last two seasons because we were able to stand up to it and wear them down. But it was different this time around."

   The Illini had beaten Ohio State in the last four meetings, including two routs last season. Illinois won 81-57 in Columbus and 80-64 in Champaign.

   "There''s yarn and there''s a cat, and we were not the cat," OSU coach Beth Burns said. "We were abused, and we know that."

   For the first 10 minutes Friday, Illinois seemed ready to torture Ohio State again, jumping to a 19-10 lead thanks to several wide-open layups. Sheeler and Melissa Parker scored the first 11 Illini points.

   "We got out of the gate fast," Illinois coach Theresa Grentz said. "But we have some things to work on."

   Ohio State charged back, scoring 21 of the next 30 points before halftime to take a 31-28 lead. The Buckeyes enjoyed runs of 7-0 and 10-0.

   "I didn''t talk strategy in the first half, I talked intensity," Burns said. "Every time there was a loose ball, it seemed like there was a blue jersey on it.

   "That''s not Ohio State basketball. Once we got around to hustling and playing hungry, like we have to do, it started to shift our way a little bit."

   There were eight lead changes and four ties in the second half, but Ohio State held on down the stretch, thanks to a brutal final minute by Illinois.

   The Illini, trailing 69-67 with 44.9 seconds left, seemed lost offensively. Illinois took two timeouts to prevent turnovers and managed only a halfcourt desperation heave byAllison Curtin as the shot clock expired.

   The Illini fouled Ohio State''s Jamie Lewis with 13.6 seconds left, and she hit 1 of 2, leaving Illinois down 70-67.

   Rather than work the ball around the perimeter, Illinois forced the ball inside and couldn''t manage a shot.

   "We have to do some review and work really hard," Grentz said. "We need to do a better job of teaching them how to play when there are only seconds on the clock."

   Meanwhile, Ohio State is soaking up one of the biggest wins in recent memory. The Buckeyes (11-3, 4-0) have won their first four conference games for the first time since 1992-93.

   "This is one of those wins in your program that you remember forever," Burns said. "I say that because of the respect we have for the Illinois program."

   Susan Blauser led Illinois (9-6, 3-2) with 18 points and six rebounds.

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