CHAMPAIGN — Thursday night’s game against Indiana represented somewhat of a progress report for the Illinois women’s basketball team.
Sure, the Hoosiers had slipped slightly in the AP Top 25 rankings from No. 12 to their current position. Still, No. 20 Indiana was a team that not only defeated the Illini on Jan. 6 in Bloomington, Ind., but did so soundly.
Five weeks later, Illinois got its rematch against the same Hoosiers team that won by 41 points and had a chance to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in the Nancy Fahey era.
The 40 minutes in front of 1,145 fans at State Farm Center played out completely differently from what happened last month at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
A strong defensive effort had the Illini (11-13, 2-11 Big Ten) thinking upset. The Hoosiers (20-6, 10-4) had other ideas, however, making enough key plays down the stretch to hand Illinois an all-too-familiar 59-54 defeat.
“This was a highly-motivated team,” Fahey said. “We didn’t feel like we showed up the first time against (Indiana), and they took it to us. We were motivated to show how much fight we have.
“I felt like we were in it until the final three minutes. We had a couple situations where we put them on the free-throw line. Playing top 20, you have to have everything working to win. I look at free throws and a couple of missed layups that could have changed the game.”
With the score tied at 49 and 3:48 left in regulation, the game appeared to turn on a foul by Petra Holesinska with Indiana getting not only two free throws but an extra possession after the 5-foot-9 redshirt junior guard was called for an intentional foul. Jaelynn Penn knocked down the ensuing free throws and a Aleksa Gulbe layup put Illinois behind by four.
The Illini never got any closer than three points.
Ali Andrews scored 19 points to lead Illinois, with Jeanae Terry adding 15 points. Ali Patberg had 17 points for Indiana, which was held well below its scoring average of 73.6 points entering Thursday.