LIVE! Wisconsin at State Farm Center

Final: Wisconsin 76, Illinois 64 (OT)

The Illini were outscored 18-6 in overtime and lost their Big Ten opener Friday night at State Farm Center.

Junior guard Ivory Crawford led Illinois (7-7, 0-1 Big Ten) with 20 points.

Senior guard Taylor Wurtz led Wisconsin (8-5, 1-0) with a double-double (27 points, 19 rebounds).

Check back later for a full game story.

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End of regulation: Illinois 58, Wisconsin 58

We're heading to overtime. Illini did not score in the final 3:21 of regulation.

Wisconsin overcame a 58-53 deficit down the stretch on two free throws by Morgan Paige and a three-pointer by Taylor Wurtz.

Wurtz took a three-point shot with 2.1 seconds left but stepped on the out of bounds line for a turnover.

10:00 left in second half: Illinois 44, Wisconsin 43

Hero: Taylor Wurtz

Just when Illinois threatened to pull away, the Wisconsin senior guard came to her team's rescue. Wurtz has scored ninie of her team's last 11 points. The Illini twice led by as many as seven points in this half, but Wurtz would not allow the Badgers to fade away.

Goat: Amber Moore

Tough shooting game for the Illini sharp shooter, who has five points. The senior wing entered with a team-best 18.8 scoring average.

What I've thinking:

-- Decent crowd for as cold as it is tonight. Bodes well if this Illini team is able to go on a run and create some excitment on campus and in the community.

-- Wisconsin's Michala Johnson has yet to score a point in this half. Stuck on 10.

-- Illini junior Alexis Smith has matched her career high with two three-pointers.

****

Halftime: Illinois 26, Wisconsin 23

Hero: Illini defenders

Illinois has forced 16 Badgers turnovers and turned them into 15 points.

Goat: Illini shooters

Illinois leads this game because of the extra possessions those UW turnovers have given them. The Illini have needed those because they're only shooting 29.4 percent (10 of 34).

What I'm thinking:

-- This is the kind of defense that the Illini relied on so often last season. Will need to keep up the pressure in the second half to win.

-- Wisconsin's 6-3 Michala Johnson, a transfer from Connecticut, has a team-high 10 points, but she's also turned the ball over a game-high four times.

-- Ivory Crawford, coming off a 23-point game at Georgia, leads the Illini with 12 points. If she can be consistent, this is a different Illini team.

****

7:44 left first half:

Illinois 17, Wisconsin 17

Heroes: Illini long-range shooters

Illinois is 3 for 5 from three-point range, with Ivory Crawford, Alexis Smith and Amber Moore each hitting from distance.

Goat: Wisconsin ball handlers.

Badgers already up to 10 turnovers; troubled by Illini pressure.

What I'm thinking:

-- Besides Charlest "Peanut" Tillman (see below), others at tonight's game include Illini recruiting target Tori McCoy of St. Thomas More High School in Champaign.

-- We expected Wisconsin's 6-3 Michala Johnson to be a handful for the Illini, and he is: 6 points. The good news for Illinois: she only has on rebounds.

****

Just learned that Chicago Bears cornerback Charlest "Peanut" Tillman is at the game tonight.

Was told he is an honorary Illini coach and will sit with the team on the bench. Former Illini John Wright Sr. had won a contest or bid for honorary coach for tonight's game but passed along that opportunity to Tillman. Was told they are good friends.

****

Welcome to our live report from State Farm Center for tonight’s women’s basketball game between the Illini and Wisconsin.

It’s the start of the Big Ten race for both teams, and if the initial conference openers Thursday night are any indication of what’s ahead, this shapes up to be a wild ride to the Big Ten tournament in March.

It’s doubtful anyone would have predicated that Ohio State would knock off No. 17 Purdue, must less by double digits (89-78). Or that Northwestern would throw a 66-65 scare into No. 18 Nebraska, much less on the Cornhuskers’ court. And we now know that Indiana is for real after the Hoosiers edged No. 22 Iowa 86-84 to improve to 14-0.

So, what will happen here tonight? Your guess is as good as mine. In today’s News-Gazette and on-line at IlliniHQ.com, I shakily predicted a 70-69 Illini victory, primarily on the basis that the 7-6 Illini so far have played better at home (6-0). Of course, the competition hasn’t been the greatest, and this Wisconsin team looks to be the most talented visitor so far to State Farm Center.

The 7-5 Badgers, Illini fans surely remember, are the team that stunned Illinois 58-57 last March in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin was the 11th seed after going 3-13 in the conference. Illinois was the sixth seed. If the Illini were under consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, that outcome knocked Matt Bollant’s team out of the mix.
So this Illini team, particularly the five current players who played in that Big Ten tournament disappointment, should be motivated tonight to settle a score. Over the course of a 40-minute (or longer) game, however, we’ve never considered revenge a huge factor. It might impact how the Illini start the game, but most outcomes come down to execution and energy.

As their records suggest, both teams have been inconsistent so far. Illinois played by far the tougher preconference schedule, going 0-3 against ranked opponents. Beyond that, the Illini also lost to an Arizona State team that has since entered the AP Top 25 and to a Georgia Tech squad that is receiving votes in the poll.

In contrast, Wisconsin is 0-1 versus ranked opponents, falling to a Gonzaga team that has since fallen out of the Top 25. The Badgers are coming off a notable 65-61 overtime victory against a Wisconsin-Green Bay squad that earlier this season was receiving votes in the AP poll.

While the Illini lost their two best players — seniors Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold — off last season’s team, Wisconsin has restocked with several players who missed most or all of last season with injuries. In addition, the Badgers added newly eligible Connecticut transfer Michala Johnson. The 6-3 Johnson has come on particularly strong lately and looks to be a tough matchup for a UI team with one starter taller than 5-11.

The Illini are 6-0 at home this season and have won eight home games in a row dating back to last season. However, they haven’t won a Big Ten opener since the 2010-11 season.

The BTN cameras are on hand tonight for the lone game on the conference schedule, so all eyes will be on what happens on the State Farm Center court.

Our eyes included. We’ll update this report periodically during the game so be sure to check back.

-- Jeff Huth
 

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