Penn's extended stay on bench 'devastating'
By JEFF HUTH
HOFFMAN ESTATES — It’s not uncommon for Karisma Penn to flirt with foul trouble but ultimately sidestep it.
Thursday was not one of those fortunate games for Illinois’ All-Big Ten first-team center.
Penn was limited to nine minutes in the first half by three fouls and totaled 22 minutes before fouling out — tying her shortest performance of the season.
Entering the Big Ten tournament with team-leading averages of 19.4 points and 9.9 rebounds, the Illini senior finished with eight points and four boards.
“For her to play only 22 minutes was kind of devastating to our team,” Illini coach Matt Bollant said. “She never really got into the flow because of that foul trouble.”
The Illini not only coped without Penn during the first half; they built a 30-20 lead on Wisconsin by the break.
“The first half, I thought we did a great job weathering the storm with Karisma in foul trouble,” Bollant said.
It didn’t last.
Penn was called for her fourth foul with less than two minutes elapsed in the second half and was limited to 13 minutes after the break. Wisconsin ended up outscoring Illinois 38-27 in the half.
Asked if it was a helpless feeling to be forced to watch so much of the game from the bench, Penn responded:
“Not in the first half. In the first half we were doing really well without me. When they went on a run (in the second half), it definitely hurt not to be out there.”
Stepping up. Wisconsin played without starting guard Nicole Bauman, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis Wednesday and did not make the trip.
In her place, fellow freshman Tessa Cichy made the first start of her college career and contributed eight points and four rebounds to the Badgers’ victory. Cichy also was 4 for 4 at the foul line, with two of those free throws pulling Wisconsin within 57-56 with 42 seconds left.
“I have confidence in all of our bench players,” Badgers center Cassie Rochel (10 points, 13 rebounds) said. “So when we found out about Nicole’s sickness, we looked to Tessa. And I think she did a tremendous job tonight on stepping up for Nicole.”
Vanishing act. Bollant and his players alike pointed to a familiar development that led to the team’s downfall Thursday.
“We haven’t been good playing with leads,” Bollant said.
Illinois held a 10-point lead at halftime.
“We just weren’t aggressive in the second half,” Illini guard Amber Moore said. “We didn’t have the (competitive) edge we had in the first half. If we learn to put two halves together, we’d be in a better position than we are now.”
Not timely. Trailing by one point with 3.1 seconds left and needing to go the length of the court, Illinois had one timeout left.
Bollant said he wanted to use it.
“Once we got the ball into Amber, I was yelling timeout, timeout, timeout,” he said, “and apparently the refs didn’t hear me.”
Polling place. Earlier this week, Mike Carmin of the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier contacted media members who cover Big Ten women’s basketball for their thoughts on the tournament. Seventeen responded, and the Illini figured prominently in a few categories.
When asked which of the eight teams playing on the first day was most likely to advance to the title game, the Illini came in a close second to Ohio State, 8-7.
On the question of which team most needed a deep run to improve its NCAA tournament chances, Illinois and Ohio State tied for the lead with six votes apiece.
The Illini did not receive support when respondents were asked to pick the tournament champion and to pick the two finalists. Regular-season champion Penn State was the overwhelming favorite to capture the title, with 15 votes to Nebraska’s two. Voters narrowly split on the question of which teams would reach the title game. Eight chose Penn State vs. Nebraska, and seven opted for Penn State vs. Purdue.
Law and order. A little over a year after coaching her final Illini women’s basketball game, Jolette Law is on the bench this week with the favorite in the SEC tournament.
Law, now an assistant at Tennessee, helped the No. 9 Vols win the SEC regular season title. Seeded No. 1 in the conference tournament, Tennessee received a bye into the quarterfinals and will face ninth-seeded Florida today at Duluth, Ga.
The Vols are a 17-time SEC regular season champion and seeking their 17th conference tournament title.