Feb. 19, 2003
In a game with Big Ten and NCAA Tournament ramifications, Illinois posted a big victory over Ohio State, 58-54 at Assembly Hall on Wednesday night.
Illinois improves to 15-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten, just 1/2 game behind Ohio State (17-8, 8-6) for fifth in the conference. The Illini brought the nation’s second ranked strength of schedule and the 24th spot in the latest RPI ratings into the game. The win moves Illinois one step closer to securing an NCAA Tournament bid.
Freshman Janelle Hughes made her first start in an Illinois uniform and scored a career-high 11 points, playing 26 minutes. At the 16-minute mark, Illini Head Coach Theresa Grentz made a line change, bringing in five new players. That second group helped build a 16-9 lead in the next four minutes.
“I think some of (the starters) were feeling a little pressure,” Grentz said afterward. “I wanted to take some of the pressure off of them and the others responded. We got great efforts from a number of players tonight.”
Sophomore Angelina Williams scored a game high 15 points followed by 13 points off the bench from Tiffanie Guthrie. But as the coach said, the win was a total team effort. Sophomore Jer Issenmann hit two big three-pointers in the first half. The Coach also was quick to point out that even though the numbers may not have reflected it (two points, three rebounds), Cindy Dallas’ performance was critical to the Illini’s success.
Illinois never trailed in the final 34 minutes, but the Buckeyes hung around and had two chances to tie in the final minute. However, OSU’s Didi Reynolds and Caity Matter both missed three-pointers that would have tied the game in the closing seconds. Aminata Yanni then knocked down a clinching free throw with less than one second remaining to seal the Illinois victory. Trailing 9-8 in the early going, Illinois went on an 8-0 run to take a 16-9 lead and would never trail again. The Illini would extend that lead to nine, 30-21 at the break.
In the second half, the Buckeyes used an 11-0 run to tie the game at 32-32, but the Illini would counter with an 8-0 run of their own and held OSU scoreless for a span of 6:24 in the process. Williams scored six of Illinois’ eight points in that pivotal run. Ohio State hung around down the stretch, but the Illini played stifling defense and contested every Buckeye shot.
For the game, Illinois shot 47.8 percent (22-46) from the field and 25 percent (3-12) from behind the arc. Those three 3-pointers gave the Illini 143 for the season, which breaks the team record of 142 set back in 1996-97.
Ohio State, led by Courtney Coleman’s 14 points, shot 41.2% (21-51) on the evening and out-rebounded Illinois 35-23. They turned the ball over 20 times, however, and Illinois converted those into 20 points.
Illinois tries to continue its climb up the Big Ten ladder on Monday at Michigan State. The Spartans enter play on Thursday at 8-4 in the conference.