Wisconsin 76, UI women 64 (OT): 'That was disappointing'
CHAMPAIGN — Taylor Wurtz experienced back pain so severe last season that she called it quits after five games in order to undergo surgery.
On Friday night, the good-as-new Wisconsin fifth-year senior guard was a real back-breaker against Illinois.
Wurtz matched her career high with 27 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds to lead the Badgers to a Big Ten-opening 76-64 overtime victory against the Illini at State Farm Center.
“I thought Taylor Wurtz was really outstanding,” UI coach Matt Bollant said. “Her three to start the overtime, she made a big shot there.”
Wurtz scored 19 of her points in the second half and overtime to rally the Badgers (8-5), who trailed 26-23 at halftime and were down 58-53 when Ivory Crawford scored on a jumper with 3:22 left in regulation.
“We were up five and felt really good,” Bollant said. “We got some good looks (after that) and just struggled to put them away.”
Wisconsin didn’t exactly set the nets on fire either in the remaining three-plus minutes, scoring five points, including a game-tying three by — who else? — Wurtz.
But Illinois (7-7) couldn’t manage another point in that same span, going 0 for 4 from the field and committing two turnovers.
“We got shots; we just didn’t make them,” said Bollant, whose team shot 33.8 percent for the game compared to Wisconsin’s 50.0. “Wisconsin stepped up and made plays, and give them credit for that.
“I was proud of a lot of things we did, but we just didn’t make enough plays to get it done.”
With the momentum having swung, it was more of the same in overtime. Wurtz hit her fourth three-pointer of the game to lift the Badgers to a 61-58 advantage, and they held the lead the rest of the way. Little wonder, given that Wisconsin went 5 for 5 from the field in OT. Meanwhile, Illinois managed only two points in the first 4:11 of the extra session and finished 3 of 10 in overtime.
“Offensively, we didn’t look like a lot of kids wanted to take shots (in overtime), and that was disappointing,” Bollant said. “You’ve got to have that self-belief; the get me the ball (look). And we lacked a little bit of aggressiveness in overtime that we had most of the night.”
Noting the close games and upsets one night earlier in the Big Ten, Illini guard Alexis Smith said, “Every game is going to be a battle, and it’s anyone’s game, and it comes down to heart.”
Before fouling out with 27 seconds left in OT, Smith provided a welcome — if unexpected lift — with her outside shooting. The junior guard, who entered the season with three career three-pointers, matched that total against the Badgers while shooting 3 for 6 from beyond the arc.
On a night when Illini career three-point record holder Amber Moore struggled mightily with her shot — 3 of 13; 1 of 4 on treys — Smith helped fill the gap.
“My teammates and my coaches just tell me to have confidence to shoot the ball,” said Smith, who finished with 15 points and now is 5 of 13 from three-point range for the season. “I think last year (teams) just sagged off of me, so I have to knock it down in order to open it up for the rest of my team to make plays.”
Fellow Illini guard Ivory Crawford, coming off a 23-point performance in her last game against No. 19 Georgia, produce team highs of 20 points and seven rebounds.
It wasn’t enough, however, to prevent Illinois from seeing its perfect 6-0 home record this season finally tarnished.
In the end, it was simply too much Wurtz & Co.
“Their seniors stepped up and made some really good plays,” Bollant said.
NFL cornerback joins Illini coaching staff — for a night
CHAMPAIGN — The Illini women’s basketball team had a Chicago Bear rooting for them Friday night.
Charles “Peanut” Tillman was among the honorary Illini coaches for the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin at State Farm Center.
The Bears cornerback — who is a free agent — said he was invited to the game by former Illini All-America football player John Wright Sr., who had won a bid to be honorary coach on this night.
Tillman said he and Wright have developed a strong friendship since first meeting in 2003.
“A good friend, mentor, second dad, family,” Tillman said when asked to describe his relationship with Wright.
Tillman and daughter Talya watched the game from the row of folding chairs on the floor immediately behind the Illini bench.
Tillman’s 11th season with the Bears was cut short on Nov. 10 when he suffered a torn right triceps in a game against the Detroit Lions.
“I’m feeling good right now,” he said. “Just continuing my rehab. We’re good.”
In Tillman’s absence, the Bears finished with an 8-8 record and failed to reach the NFL playoffs.
“I wish it would have went better,” he said. “I wish we would have went to the playoffs. But sometimes stuff happens, and just hope to rebuild and get ready for next year.”