MANHATTAN, Kan. — History is beckoning the Illinois women’s basketball team.
No group in the program’s history has advanced beyond the quarterfinals of a national postseason tournament.
The current Illini can change that today with a victory against Kansas State.
“That’s really exciting,” UI senior center Karisma Penn said on the eve of an Elite Eight showdown against the Wildcats in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. “I was on the last team that made it to the quarterfinals, so (we’ll) just try to exceed that this year and get further.
“It’s definitely a great feeling and a great chance for this team to do something great.”
This Illini team is no stranger to raising the bar. In fact, in its most recent game — a 63-55 third-round triumph at Toledo — Illinois broke a 12-year-old Big Ten record. With 13 steals against the Rockets, the Illini boosted their total to 408, eclipsing the league’s single-season mark of 404 by Purdue in 2000-01.
“We’ve done (history-making feats) in some other ways already,” UI coach Matt Bollant. “Hopefully, we keep those things going.”
This is Illinois’ second venture into Elite Eight territory. In 2010, Illinois advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals before losing a 53-51 heartbreaker at Illinois State. Amber Moore, who has played a major role in the Illini’s current WNIT run, was forced to watch that tournament from the bench due to a season-ending knee injury.
“It was brutal, not being able to play,” said the redshirt junior guard, who is averaging 19.7 points in three WNIT games. “Now that I have the opportunity to play in the postseason, I try to give it my all because you never know if you’ll make it to postseason or not (again).”
Like all college teams, Illinois had its sights set on the NCAA tournament. Then the Illini lost three of their last four regular season games, followed by a defeat in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
“It was disappointing not going to the NCAAs, but at the same time ... we understood the decision of the (selection) committee,” Penn said. “And just being in the WNIT now, you want to make the best of it.”
So far, Illinois has done just that. With a 3-0 postseason start, the Illini have matched their longest winning streak of the season. Another victory would be history-making. Not that it would satisfy Penn & Co.
“We want to win this whole thing,” she said.