UI women will open tourney vs. Iowa
CHAMPAIGN — No need for Matt Bollant and his Illinois coaching staff to scramble for recent video of the next opponent.
The same Iowa women’s basketball team that visited State Farm Center on Sunday afternoon for a regular season finale will be the first team the Illini face in the Big Ten tournament later this week in Indianapolis.
Of course, Bollant might choose to toss Sunday’s tape in the trash can after what transpired. In a game that got away quickly from the Illini, the No. 25 Hawkeyes rolled to an 81-56 victory.
Illinois trailed by 18 points at halftime and by as many as 35 points midway through the second half en route to its 10th consecutive loss.
“They were better than us (Sunday),” Bollant bluntly said after watching the Hawkeyes shoot 56.3 percent and record assists on 20 of their 27 field goals. “Moved the basketball really well. Shot the ball really well.
“We struggled to get stops throughout the game, and part of that was Iowa being good and us just not being at our best defensively.”
That type of performance won’t cut it Thursday if the 12th-seeded Illini hope to spring an upset on the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes in the opening round of the conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In two meetings with Iowa this season, both losses, Illinois hasn’t been closer than 14 points at the final buzzer.
“It’s got to be about toughness and grit,” Bollant said. “That’s what we talked about before the game is if it’s all about skill, we’re probably not beating this team. It has to be about toughness and grit and fight.”
In other words, the kind of qualities the Illini exhibited one game earlier, when they were within two points of No. 16 Nebraska with three minutes left before losing by seven. Illinois’ inability to string those types of efforts together was on display again Sunday.
“To not play with the amount of energy and effort that we played with at Nebraska is frustrating,” Illini guard-forward Amber Moore said. “We just have to be consistent. I think we’ve been inconsistent throughout the season.”
A final salute. Moore, who scored a team-high 14 points Sunday, was honored after the game on Senior Day. When the fifth-year senior went to the bench for the final time with 51.8 seconds left, many in the crowd of 2,201 gave the Illini’s career three-point record-holder a standing ovation.
Moore said her final home game was bittersweet.
“It’s just tough to not get the win in front of the home crowd,” she said, “but it’s just weird that I won’t be playing here ever again.
“That’s just something I will cherish — just playing for Illinois and playing in front of a great crowd and playing with my teammates.”
Milestone marker. It took most of the game, but Ivory Crawford became the 27th player in Illini history to score 1,000 points for her career. The junior guard entered the game needing six points to attain the milestone.
Crawford had five points by halftime but didn’t score again until making a layup with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left.
She ended up with 10 points, becoming the 15th player in program history to score 1,000 in three seasons.
“In the locker room (at halftime), I just noticed that I was not being myself in the first half,” Crawford said. “In the second half, I actually got myself together.”
Crawford, who was limited to 29 minutes by foul trouble, also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. It was her second consecutive double-double and third of the season, tying center Jacqui Grant for the team lead in that category.
Grant returns. Grant played in her first game Sunday since Feb. 2 after missing the previous six while recovering from mononucleosis.
The 6-foot-3 freshman started and ended up playing 20 minutes while being rotated frequently into and out of the game by Bollant.
Grant shot 3 of 6 from the field and scored seven points. She also had one rebound.
“Obviously, she didn’t look physically as good (as before taking ill),” Bollant said. “She showed some of the things she can do, but it was just hard for her physically being three weeks being out.
“But it’s good to have her back on the court, and hopefully (Sunday’s game) will help her for preparing for Thursday. Mono’s a tough thing to come back from.”
All-Big Ten women’s basketball ballots were due to the conference office by 8 p.m. Sunday. All-conference and individual award winners will be announced today. Here’s how News-Gazette beat writer Jeff Huth, selected as one of the media voters, went with his ballot:
PLAYER OF YEAR
1. Jordan Hooper Nebraska
2. Maggie Lucas Penn State
3. Samantha Logic Iowa
Rachel Banham Minnesota
Emily Cady Nebraska
Ariel Edwards Penn State
Jordan Hooper Nebraska
Samantha Logic Iowa
Maggie Lucas Penn State
Courtney Moses Purdue
Aerial Powers Michigan State
Rachel Theriot Nebraska
Amanda Zahui B. Minnesota
Ameryst Alston Ohio State
Ivory Crawford Illinois
Whitney Bays Purdue
Larryn Brooks Indiana
Nia Coffey Northwestern
Ashley Deary Northwestern
Cyesha Goree Michigan
Michala Johnson Wisconsin
Dara Taylor Penn State
April Wilson Purdue
FRESHMAN OF YEAR
1. Amanda Zahui B. Minnesota
2. Aerial Powers Michigan State
3. Larryn Brooks Indiana
COACH OF YEAR
1. Coquese Washington Penn State
2. Suzy Merchant Michigan State
3. Connie Yori Nebraska