TOLEDO, Ohio — Amber Moore’s ears were ringing during warmups.
The Toledo crowd was that loud.
“Rowdy, too,” the Illinois junior guard said. “We were yelling at the top of our lungs just to hear each other.”
Moore and the Illini had an easier time communicating after Thursday’s WNIT Sweet 16 game. A second-half rally in a 63-55 win left Savage Arena eerily quiet.
“Once we won, it was a whole different atmosphere,” Moore said.
One of the program’s longest postseason runs continues at 4 p.m. Saturday at Kansas State with a spot in the Final Four up for grabs. The Wildcats (18-17), who finished tied for eighth in the Big 12, beat Ball State 60-48 on Thursday.
With its third playoff win — matching the three WNIT wins in 2010 — Illinois kept Matt Bollant’s first season up and running.
Barely. Down 47-43 with eight minutes left, Illinois closed on a 20-8 run, quieting the festive crowd of 3,410.
“They made several runs at us, and earlier (in the season), we may not have responded like we did tonight,” Bollant said. “We had a lot of poise tonight and played with a lot of heart, which was really encouraging to see. I think this is as good of a road win as we’ve had in a long time.”
Illinois had lost its last three true road games and its last neutral-court game at the Big Ten tournament.
“To come into this really tough environment against a Toledo team that is in the top 40 in the RPI, this is a really good win for our team,” Bollant said.
Karisma Penn had 23 points and 11 rebounds — her first double-double in a month — while playing all 40 minutes.
“Karisma was a warrior down the stretch, made every play that she had to,” Bollant said.
Moore, rock solid during the WNIT run, buried five three-pointers for 18 points in 39 minutes. She is averaging 19.7 points in the WNIT.
“This postseason has been so good for Amber,” Bollant said. “To get three great games and play with a lot of poise and a lot of heart ...”
Ivory Crawford had eight rebounds, Adrienne GodBold added eight points and the Illini broke the Big Ten’s single-season record for steals (they needed 10 and got 13).
“To force 23 turnovers against this team ... they’re a really good basketball team. And tonight, we broke the Big Ten steals record, which I’m so proud of this team for the heart that they played with and the passion,” Bollant said.
Illinois, which stayed in Toledo after Thursday’s game, was scheduled to arrive in Manhattan, Kan., this afternoon. The Illini are 0-2 against the Wildcats, including a WNIT round of 16 loss in 2007.
The winner advances to next week’s Final Four. If Illinois keeps advancing, it will do so on the road.
The Illini are unable to host upcoming WNIT games due to booked events at the Assembly Hall.
“We showed how resilient we are tonight,” Moore said.
Moore’s shooting keyed a 6-for-21 effort from three-point range, allowing the Illini to tie the school record for single-season three-pointers.