Purdue 80, UI women 68: 'We definitely fought hard'
CHAMPAIGN — When Jacqui Grant was whistled for her third foul merely 35 seconds into the second half Monday night, the Illinois center did what most basketball players in that situation would:
Look toward her team’s bench in anticipation of being replaced on the floor.
Instead, what the 6-foot-3 freshman saw was ... well, nothing. Coach Matt Bollant was sticking with his starting center, foul trouble and all.
“I was like, ‘OK, be aggressive, but be smart; be disciplined,’ ” Grant said.
The Park Ridge native was all that and more from that point on. Grant shot 6 of 7 and scored 15 of her game-high-tying
22 points in the second half to help give Illinois a fighting chance against No. 19 Purdue.
In the end, the Boilermakers and their superlative backcourt trio of Courtney Moses, KK Houser and April Wilson were too much for the Illini en route to an 80-68 Big Ten victory in front of 1,554 fans at State Farm Center and a national audience on BTN.
Moses matched Grant’s scoring total, while Houser and Wilson combined for 32 points as the prolific Boilermakers (15-5, 5-3 Big Ten) scored at least 80 points for the eighth time this season.
“Those three did a really phenomenal job today,” said Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, who was particularly enamored with Wilson’s overall performance, which included a team-high eight rebounds and five assists while committing merely one turnover in just under 40 minutes.
“It’s the best stat line I’ve seen in a long time,” Versyp said.
Grant’s wasn’t too shabby either, the all-stater from Maine South High School contributing seven rebounds, a game-high four blocks and two steals in 33 minutes — 19 of those coming in the second half.
“I thought the second half, she was really good,” Bollant said. “She was consistent. It’s not easy to do as a freshman, but she’s talented enough to do it. ... She’s a really talented player and she’s going to continue to help this program.”
The UI coach indicated he never considered removing Grant, who finished with four fouls, after she picked up No. 3 so early in the second half.
“I’m not one to have the best players on the bench and watching their team beat you,” Bollant said. “I’d rather give a chance to a kid. You have to play smart and play with fouls, and for the most part, our kids do a pretty good job of that.”
Grant had fouled out of two of the UI’s previous five games and has fouled out a total of six times.
“There’s still things that I’m uncomfortable with that I’m working on in practice; like the defensive end is something everyone can improve on, but especially me,” the Illini freshman said. “You’ve just got to do it to get comfortable with it, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
That Grant feels more confident in her offense was apparent after she was called for that third foul. Sixteen seconds later, she scored on a jumper, igniting a flurry in which Grant scored her team’s next seven points.
“Offense is something I’m a little bit more confident at than defense,” she said.
Later, Grant scored consecutive baskets to pull Illinois (9-11, 2-5 Big Ten) within 56-54 with 10:44 left.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half and by as much as nine to that stage of the second half, the Illini were breathing down Purdue’s neck.
But the Boilermakers kept their cool, scoring seven unanswered points to rebuild their lead to 63-54. Illinois never got closer than seven thereafter.
“We definitely fought hard to be down by two,” Illini guard Alexis Smith said, “But like Coach said, when you’re going against good teams you have to take advantage of that and you have to go ahead.
“We let them gain confidence and momentum, so we have to keep punching at them.”
Piper missing. Illini sophomore Mckenzie Piper, a backup forward, was not in uniform or on the bench Monday night.
However, Bollant indicated she is on campus, which addresses speculation about whether the Iowa City, Iowa, native might have transferred.
“We’re meeting with her tomorrow and talking some things through,” he said.
Piper, who has averaged
4.8 minutes in 11 games this season, had not played in the previous three games.
Hartwell takes spill. Illini redshirt sophomore guard Sarah Hartwell left Monday’s game with 6:35 left after falling hard to the court. Hartwell stayed prone for a while before being helped off the court by two teammates. She kept off her left foot while hopping to the sideline.
Hartwell was attended to by an athletic trainer in the row of chairs behind the Illini bench and later rejoined her teammates, walking to the bench under her own power.
“She was fine,” Bollant said when asked how Hartwell was doing. “She could have come back in. She just had a really hard fall.”