Final: Northwestern 62, Illinois 58
The Illini are still looking for their first Big Ten home victory after falling to the Wildcats on Sunday at Assembly Hall.
Northwestern, which lost by 18 points to Illinois on Jan. 10 at Evanston, dropped Illinois' record in conference home games to 0-3.
The Illini (10-8, 3-3 Big Ten) shot a season-low 26.2 percent (16 of 61). Illinois stayed in the game with 23-of-26 shooting on free throws.
Foul trouble cost Illinois three starters down the stretch. Point guard Alexis Smith fouled out with 7:36 left. Center Karisma Penn (15 points) did the same with 5:24 remaining. Adrienne GodBold (21 points, nine rebounds) received her fifth foul with 2:01 left.
Illinois led 56-53 with 4:06 left but could score only two more points. Northwestern produced nine points in that same period.
11:12 left in 2nd half
Illinois 39, Northwestern 38
Hero: Ivory Crawford
Illini sophomore guard has scored seven points in this half ,and all of her 11 points have come since 1:38 was left in first half. On a day when points are hard to come by for both teams, Crawford is stepping up for her team.
Goat: Northwestern free throw shooters
Wildcats are 3 of 9 at the line (33.3 percent). Their solid shooting from the field definitely isn't carrying to free throws
What I'm thinking:
-- Momentum seems to be going in UI's direction, but Northwestern is still making it tough to score.
-- Karisma Penn's struggles at the foul line during her career are well-documented, but in most games this season she's made major progress. Like today; she's 7 of 8.
-- For a team looking for its first home win in the Big Ten race, an Illini loss would be puzzling and a big blow. Northwestern did enter this building, after all, 0-4 in the Big Ten.
-- Today's crowd might be half the size as last Sunday's, but they're making their presence felt. Unlike recent seasons at Assembly Hall for women's basketball, this place definitely isn't dead. And hasn't been all season.
Halftime: Northwestern 25, Illinois 20
Hero: Alex Cohen
Sophomore forward came off the bench to hit two big three-pointers for Northwestern, the second creating a 10-point lead with about 7 minutes left.
Goat: Illini shooters
Sorry to be repetitive, but so is Illinois when it takes aim at the basket. Illini shooting 24.1 percent (7 of 29).
What I'm thinking:
-- The Illini are fortunate to be trailing by only five points considering how they've shot the ball.
-- Can't fault the UI's free throw shooting, howeverl Illini are 5 of 6 at the line, a big reason they are as close as they are to NU.
-- Conversely, the Wildcats could end up regretting squandered opportunities at the foul line. NU is 2 of 7 in free throw attempts.
-- Nice ceremony at halftime to honor a group of women as part of the Title IX festivities here today. Among those introduced on the court were wheelchair racing great Jean Driscoll, 2003 Miss America Erika Herold, Urbana mayor Laurel Prussing and Shorty Eichelberger, whose name graces the UI's softball facility.
11:54 left in first half
Northwestern 11, Illinois 7
Hero: Kendall Hackney.
The senior forward has scored eight of the Wildcats' 11 points and is 4 of 5 from the field.
Goat: Illini shooters
UI can't get the lid off the basket, missing eight of their first nine shots (11.1 percent).
What I'm thinking:
-- Illini defenders better start making a point of locating Hackney. She's been deadly with her shot.
-- Looks like Northwestern is making a point of really spacing the floor in the halfcourt in an attempt to counter Illinois' pressure. NU had a ton of turnovers (34) when it lost to Illinois on Jan. 10.
-- No need to open up B section today at the Assembly Hall. The crowd is pretty good sized, but it won't come close to last Sunday's "Pack the Hall" attendance of 4,`75.
-- Had a chance to talk with former Illini great Ashley Berggren, who returned for today's game to participate in tribute to the 40th anniversary of Title IX. We'll bring you up to date on Berggren as part of our coverage in The News-Gazette and on-line for Monday.
Welcome to our live report from the Assembly Hall for today's Big Ten women's basketball game between Illinois and Northwestern.
These are two teams currently heading in different directions. The Illini (10-7, 3-2 Big Ten) have won three of their last four games and six of their last nine. The Wildcats (8-9, 0-4 Big Ten) have lost their last four games and nine of their last 11 after opening the season 6-0.
This is the teams' second meeting in 11 days. On Jan. 10 at Evanston, Illinois rolled to a 65-47 victory, a win built on a dominant pressure defense. The Illini racked up 24 steals that night -- most in program history in a Big Ten game -- and pressured the Wildcats into committing 34 turnovers.
Look for Northwestern to make a great effort to take better care of the basketball today. The question is, can they do significantly better in that area against an Illinois team that leads the Big Ten in steals per game (16.8) in conference play. In five Big Ten games, Illini opponents have averaged 27.4 turnovers per game.
Illinois will take its third stab at winning a home Big Ten game today. The Illini are 3-0 on the road in the conference, but have lost both of their league home games. The level of the competition has something to do with the latter. Those defeats came against current No. 12 Purdue in overtime and to a Michigan State team that enters today 15-2 and has received votes in the last seven Associated Press Top 25 polls. The outcome against the Spartans was close, too; by four points.
The UI will mark the 40th anniversary of Title IX as part of today's activities at the Assembly Hall. Local women who are pioneers and contributors to the growth of girls' and women's athletics will be recognized.
One statistic of interest in the series with Northwestern is that Illinois has won 10 of the last 11 meetings in Champaign, a run that began way back on Feb. 10, 2000.
We'll be interested to see what the attendance is today. A week ago, for the free admissions "Pack the Hall" promotion, the UI drew 4,175. Before that, the largest home crowd for an Illini home game was 1,973 on Dec. 21 against Illinois State -- a game that presumably attracted a larger than usual contingent of fans of the opponent. I doubt that Northwestern's fans travel much, but we shall see.
We'll update this report at around the midpoint and end of each half, so be sure to check back in periodically.