UI women: 'Great shot at the NCAA tournament'
CHAMPAIGN — When it comes to responding to a loss, the Illinois women’s basketball team apparently take its cues from a certain no-nonsense deputy sheriff.
As TV’s fictional Barney Fife would say:
Nip it. Nip it in the bud.
Coming off an ugly 33-point defeat at No. 7 Penn State, the Illini again showed Saturday at the Assembly Hall why they so aptly deserve the nickname Team Resilient.
By bouncing back with a 73-60 Big Ten victory against Indiana, Illinois improved to 9-1 in games after a loss. Through 26 games this season, the Illini have experienced merely one losing streak. And that was, ahem, nipped in the bud after two defeats.
“You learn a lot about a team the game after a loss,” Illinois coach Matt Bollant said.
What Bollant, opponents and fans are learning is even the UI program’s worst defeat in eight years — a 95-62 pummeling courtesy of Big Ten leader Penn State on Wednesday — can’t keep these Illini down for long.
“After you lose, you should want to come out and play better and show a better effort and do things you didn’t necessarily do in the last game,” Illinois center Karisma Penn said. “And I think going into this game that’s definitely what we wanted to do.”
With Penn’s considerable help, it was mission accomplished. The 6-foot-2 center racked up 25 points — her 11th 20-plus scoring game this season — while shooting 10 of 14 from the field.
“Karisma Penn showed why she’s one of the elite players in the block,” Hoosiers coach Curt Miller said.
Penn had plenty of help, too. Four teammates scored between eight and 13 points as Illinois (16-10, 9-5 Big Ten) won for the sixth time in its last eight games.
Reserve Taylor Tuck turned in a noteworthy performance. The sophomore guard-forward contributed nine points and three rebounds in 15 turnover-less minutes.
Penn and Tuck also came through with clutch offensive plays after Indiana — which trailed by 14 points at halftime — twice cut its deficit to six points in the second half.
First, Penn sank two free throws to give Illinois some breathing room at 46-38. Then, after irrepressible guard Jasmine McGhee (25 points) again pulled the Hoosiers within six points, Tuck struck back with a three-pointer to put the Illini ahead 49-40.
“Two great responses,” Bollant said. “That’s part of leading is making plays.”
Indiana (11-16, 2-12) never got closer than seven points thereafter.
With the victory, third-place Illinois assured itself of its first winning Big Ten record since the 2002-03 season. For Illini fans looking for positive omens, that season marked the last time Illinois appeared in the NCAA tournament.
“We should finish in the top six (of the Big Ten) at least, and that should give us a great shot at the NCAA tournament,” said Bollant, whose team ended the day one-half game ahead of three rivals in a tight conference race. “But also we’re trying to position ourselves for the Big Ten tournament and getting the very best seed we can and best position to make a run in that.”
The Illini have two remaining Big Ten regular season games, starting with a visit by Ohio State on Thursday night.