Ask Bleill what's wrong with the Illini here
Final: California 65, Illinois 61
CHAMPAIGN - They do enough things properly, and play well enough in stretches, to make one think that the Illini women have the potential to be a respectable, middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team this winter.
But it is those 6- or 8-minute stretches of dreadful play that have undermined the Illini's nonconference season, the latest and most glaring example being Tuesday's 65-61 setback against California.
Illinois (5-8) outplayed Cal (8-3) for a good chunk of the second half, nearly erasing a 13-point deficit. The Illini also had a solid 10-minute stretch in the first half, clawing even with Cal at 25. But the last five minutes of the half were a disaster, the Bears going on a 10-0 run that caused Illinois to spend the rest of the evening recuperating.
The Illini's good second-half work allowed them to get within two points on three separate occasions, but each time Cal responded. The most important moment arrived with 3 minutes left, the Illini trailing 54-52. Cal's Lindsay Sherbert sank a three-pointer, and Illinois' Adrienne GodBold made an ill-advised drive that resulted in a miss. Cal scored the next five points to end the suspense.
The missing ingredient for Illinois? Another go-to scorer, perhaps. Karisma Penn has consistently done her part, averaging nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds. But when she's out - as evidenced by a late-first half run by Cal while Penn sat with foul trouble - the Illini tend to scuffle.
There's also an element of inexperience. Most of the Illini's key components are freshmen or sophomores, Lydia McCully being the primary exception.
Penn finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Amber Moore had 11 points and Centrese McGee 10.
Illinois plays host to Minnesota at 7:30 Thursday.
Halftime: California 35, Illinois 25
The first five minutes and the last five minutes of the first half for Illinois weren't very pleasant. The 10 minutes in between? Not bad. Unfortunately for Illinois, a late Cal run put the Golden Bears in a good spot.
DeNesha Stallworth has 13 points and Lindsay Sherbert 11 for the Bears, who used a 10-0 run to end the half to take command. It wasn't a coincidence that Cal's run came in the final 4:35, which is the point at which Karisma Penn left the game with her second foul. Illinois' offense, which wasn't bad for much of the half despite getting only four points from Penn, went south, and the Bears capitalized. Amber Moore (two three-pointers) and Lydia McCully scored six points apiece for Illinois.
Greetings from a quiet Assembly Hall, where you could nap in peace at the moment. Less than 20 minutes to tip, and there's about 160 fans in the building.
Too bad. It's an interesting game from a fan's perspective. Cal, the 2010 WNIT champ -- had Illinois beaten Illinois State last March, the Illini would have faced Cal in the semis in this building -- has a roster filled with talent. Its sophomore class was ranked, by some recruiting gurus, No. 1 in the nation when it entered Cal. Its freshman class was ranked No. 7 by one service. And the Golden Bears are BIG -- as in 6-3, 6-3, 6-5. They will be a handful.
I'm one of 40 members on the Associated Press Top 25 poll board, and I had Cal in my Top 25 at the season's start. I've been a bit disappointed in their play. They lost at New Mexico -- granted, that's an awfully difficult place to play, and it was in double OT -- but, still. It's a game they could have won. And they're coming off a neutral court loss to a Texas Tech team that isn't expected to finish in the upper division of the Big 12 this season.
--Kersten Magrum has had a setback with her troublesome foot and isn't dressed tonight. I'm told there's a chance she could play in the Big Ten opener Thursday against Minnesota here.
--Game plan tonight for Illinois is simple: Shackle the penetration by Layshia Clarendon, who loves to rub off ball screens near the key and create havoc. She'll dish to the inside duo of Talia Caldwell and DeNesha Stallworth, both 6-3. For an Illinois team that is talent- and height-challenged along the frontline (Karisma Penn excepted), it will be a huge task.
--I'll be Brian Moline's halftime guest on the radio side. Brian is filling in for Dave Loane, who is handling the UI men's game tomorrow in Iowa City.