Final Wisconsin 58, Illinois 57
Morgan Paige hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to lift 11th--seeded Wisconsin to a stunning first-round victory Thursday afternoon at the Big Ten tournament.
Illini Amber Moore got off a shot from well beyond the arc before time expired, but it hit high off the backboard.
Illinois fell to 16-13, and the loss raises questions about how damaging it might be to its NCAA tournament hopes.
Wisconsin (12-18) moved on to face Purdue in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Badgers led 54-44 with a little over five minutes left when the Illini mounted a furious comeback. Illinois scored 13 unanswered points, capping the rally with a three-pointer by Moore to take a 57-54 lead.
Illinois would not score again, as Wisconsin scored is final four points from the foul line to pull out the victory.
11:27 left in second half
Wisconsin 37, Illinois 36
Hero: Jacki Gulczynski. The has scored six points in the second half to lead the Badgers' comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit.
Goat: Illini shooters. Illinois having a terrible time finding the bottom of the rim in this half. Just 2 of 11 from the field
What I'm thinking:
-- Could the highly improbable happen? No one would have predicted that 11th seeded Wisconsin would beat Illinois. Badgers giving Illini all they can handle.
-- A huge factor in this game is the absence of Karisma Penn. The Illini center picked up her fourth foul with less than two minutes gone in the half and had to go back to the bench. Illinois struggling with interior defense without the 6-2 Penn.
-- Plenty of time for Illinois to respond. If they don't, does that end Illini's NCAA tournament hopes?
Halftime: Illinois 30, Wisconsin 20
Hero: Adrienne GodBold. With Illini center Karisma Penn limited to nine minutes by foul trouble, the 5-11 GodBold is playing the 5 position and giving her team a lift while battling Wisconsin's 6-4 Cassie Rochel. GodBold has four points and three rebounds.
Goat: Wisconsin shooters. After starting out strong, the Badgers are shooting bricks. Wisconsin ended the half with a 26.1 shooting percentage and managed merely four points in the final 11:21 of the half.
What I'm thinking:
-- We'll see if the Badgers have another punch left in them. Illinois absolutely ruled the final 11 minutes of the first half, 14-4.
-- Penn can be foul-prone, but lately she's been able to get into and then stay out of foul trouble. She last fouled out on Feb. 7, seven games ago.
-- Wisconsin is on pace for the turnover total (27) it had in each of its previous two games against Illinois this season. The Badgers have 14 turnovers at the break, with point guard Tiera Stephen committing five.
11:35 Left in First Half
Illinois 16, Wisconsin 14
Hero: Amber Moore. The redshirt guard had hit a couple of big three-pointers, including the on that put the Illini ahead at this point.s
Goat: Sears Centre Arena public address sound system. Not sure I have heard a weaker sound system in a college arena. Can barely tell what the PA announcer is saying.
What I'm thinking:
-- The Illini have a battle on their hands against the 11th-seeded -- and depleted -- Badgers. Wisconsin bullt a 12-6 lead before Illinois responded with a comeback.
-- Badgers receiving a big boost from unexpected starter Tessa Cichy. With Nicole Bauman out with mononucleosis, Cichy is making her first start, and she's hit each of her first two shots.
-- Morgan Paige, who scored 18 points in the first half against Illinois in the teams' first meeting this season, really has taken it to the Illini defense. The junior guard has six points, all on free throws after drawing fouls with her aggressive drives.
-- Illini signee Jacqui Grant of Maine South is here watching her future team. Talked to her briefly, and she's excited by the success the program has had this season.
Just learned that Wisconsin starting guard Nicole Bauman will not be available to play today, and presumably, for the rest of the tournament if the Badgers advance. Bauman was diagnosed with mononucleosis before practice on Wednesday and did not make the trip. The 5-foot-10 Bauman has averaged 7.0 points, tied for third on the team, and 3.6 rebounds.
Freshman Tessa Cichy, a 6-foot freshman, is expected to make her first career start in place of Bauman.
Welcome to our live report from the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates for today's Big Ten women's basketball tournament game between Illinois and Wisconsin.
The sixth-seeded Illini (16-12) and 11th-seeded Badgers (11-18) will be vying for a spot in Friday's quarterfinals, where third-seeded Purdue awaits.
This is the third meeting of the season between Illinois and Wisconsin, with coach Matt Bollant's Illini winning the first two. Neither team is exactly on a roll. The Illini have lost three of their last four games, while the Badgers are looking to halt a five-game losing streak. Illinois has lost its last two, only the second time this season it has dropped consecutive games.
The teams have squared off three times in previous Big Ten tournaments, with the Illini winning each game. In each case, Illinois was the lower-seeded team. Not today.
In each of the last five years, Illinois has opened the tournament in the first round -- as opposed to earning a first-round bye -- and has won four of those five games.
This will be the Illini's third neutral-site game of the season and first since way back on Nov. 24 at a tournament in the Bahamas. Illinos is 1-1 in such games.
There's some debate about how important this game is to the Illini's hopes of landing an NCAA tournament at-large spot. Bollant believes his team has already done enough to merit a spot in the 64-team field. And the web site, RealTimeRPI.com, has Illinois seeded 13th in its mock bracket. But ESPN currently has the Illini among the "first four out" in its bracket. And espnW writer Graham Hays told The News-Gazette earlier this week that given Illinois ranking in the NCAA RPI, No. 63, it has "reason to worry" if it loses to Wisconsin.
The Illini defeated the Badgers by margins of eight and seven points earlier this season, and Illinois' defensive pressure was a major factor in the outcome. Wisconsin turned the ball over 27 times in each game, and the Illini outscored the Badgers 45-18 in points over turnovers in the two games combined.
The Badgers don't score much and rely heavily on two players for points: All-Big Ten third-team guard Morgan Paige and guard/forward Jacki Gulczynski. The combine to average 28.7 points for a team that averages 57.9.
Wisconsin has one of the better interior players in the conference in 6-4 junior Cassie Rochel. She leads the Big Ten and ranks 14th nationally in blocks (2.64). In Big Ten-only games, her rebound average of 10.2 ranks No. 2.
Without the first-round bye, Illinois faces the prospect of having to win four games in four days to earn the tournament title and the conference's automatic NCAA bid. Bollant primarily relies on six players, so depth and fatigue are issues that the Illini must deal with to make that kind of a run. Bollant has indicated he will rest his team as much as possible. He said earlier this week there will be no practices between games and no early-morning shootarounds.
We'll update this live report at around the midpoint and the end of each half, so be sure to check back in.