This year, the Illini prevailed 60-49 to beat the Wildcats for the third time this season and the 15th straight time dating back to 1999. Illinois' three-headed monster of Danyel Crutcher (14 points, 7 rebounds), Erin Wigley (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Audrey Tabon (8 points, 11 rebounds) combined for 33 points and 25 rebounds to dominate the Wildcats in the paint. The Illini (15-13) advance to Friday's quarterfinal for the second straight year, where 14th-ranked Purdue is waiting.
"We played one today where we had to keep pulling and getting after it," said Illini head coach Theresa Grentz after the game. "You have to give Northwestern a whole lot of credit. They didn't fold, they kept coming back and they kept making shots, but we were able to pull it out in the end."
Illinois led by as many as 13 (43-30) in the second half after a Chelsea Gordon three-pointer with 11:00 remaining, but Northwestern stormed back with a 15-2 run, 11 of which were by NU senior Ifeoma Okonkwo, to tie the game at 45 with less than four minutes to play. A traditional three-point play by Wigley stopped the bleeding for the Illini, who closed the game on a 15-4 run of their own, making 6-of-6 from the line in the final minute to seal the victory.
Besides the inside trio, several other Illini made big contributions to the win. Janelle Hughes had eight points, six rebounds and three assists and Lori Bjork struggled through an off shooting night (2-9) to chip-in 11 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes. Gordon, who hit the game winning shot with 2.6 seconds left in the Illini win at Northwestern two weeks ago, had another big game against the Wildcats, hitting both of her three-point attempts to finish with eight points. Maggie Acuna came up big on the defensive end, sparking the Illini with four steals.
Illinois shot 38.2 percent (21-55) for the game while holding the Wildcats to 33.9 percent (20-59) from the field. The Orange and Blue held a 43-36 rebounding edge and made seven more three throws then NU (15-8).
The first half was a back and forth affair that saw six lead changes and four ties. Illinois led by a slim margin early on until the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run, all by Okonkwo, who finished with a game-high 26 points, to take a 19-15 lead with 7:27 to play. Illinois answered with a three-pointer by Gordon and later went on a 10-0 run over a span of 2:40 to turn a 23-20 deficit into a 30-23 lead with under a minute to play. Northwestern got the last basket of the half to make the score 30-25. The Illini shot 46.2 percent in the first half, and Audrey Tabon had six points and seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes, but 11 UI turnovers kept the Wildcats in the game.
The seventh-seeded Illini (15-13) advance to the quarterfinals on Friday to face second seeded and 14th-ranked Purdue (22-5) at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT in a game televised by Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Illinois fell to the Boilers, 57-53, in tight game back on Jan. 22 at Assembly Hall. Last season in the quarterfinals a seventh-seeded Illini squad took second-seeded and eighth-ranked Michigan State to overtime before falling 61-50.
Courtesy of the U of I SID