BY GREG FLINT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —
A bye in the Big Ten tournament was at stake when Illinois traveled to face Purdue in women’s basketball.
Whichever team won the game would finish in the top four of the conference and earn a bye while the other would finish no better than fifth meaning they would have to play one of the dreaded Thursday games when the tournament tips off in the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates later this week.
In the end, it would be Purdue getting the day off as they won by the score of 76-65.
Illinois scored first, a pair of free throws by Karisma Penn, but Purdue took the lead on a jumper by Drey Mingo and a trey by Courtney Moses. Amber Moore re-tied with a 3-pointer of her own.
The Illini went out in front 9-7 and 11-9, but both teams struggled to score as they kept shooting off-balance shots. Purdue grabbed the lead but gave it right back only to get it again.
It was a case of Purdue turning the ball over with bad passing while Illinois was overly aggressive trying to get to the basket with the result that neither squad could dominate the game.
Purdue looked as if they might gain control when they went on a 9-0 run keyed by baskets by Moses and Mingo to lead 24-19 then extended the margin to eight at 31-23 with about four minutes left in the half.
Keying the run was good ball movement by the Boilermakers, but after getting the lead, they began making unforced errors.
Illinois took advantage to reel off six straight points to cut the margin to two. The Boilermakers got a trey at that point from April Wilson but could only lead by four, 32-32 at intermission.
Matt Bollant, the Illinois head coach said that Purdue took advantage of the defense played by his team.
“Our half-court defense was okay,” he said, “but we gave them points in transition and our weak-side help was poor as it led to them getting lay-ups.”
Both teams made too many turnovers in the first half to please either coach with Purdue having nine and Illinois having a dozen.
The second half started well for Illinois as they tied the game in the first minute and then neither team could gain an advantage of more than one or two baskets until 11:23 mark of the half.
At that point, Illinois led 50-47, but Purdue went on a 13-0 run in the next four minutes to lead 60-50.
“We had too many turnovers that led to their points,” said Bollant. “We didn’t play with poise.”
Another key, according to Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, was the ability for her team to get the ball inside during that run. She also noted they changed to a zone defense that allowed her team to slow down the game and take control.
Illinois tried to respond and they cut the margin to eight a couple of times, but they could never put together the kind of run they needed to get back into the game.
When asked about going into the Big Ten tournament after a couple of losses and having to play the extra game as a result, Bollant said, “It’s a great opportunity to make a run. We tied for fifth which is the best we’ve done in at least five or six years.”
Penn was not worried about playing the extra game, explaining, “I played on the first day my sophomore year. It’s not as big a deal as some people think.”
Before the game, Versyp said the key to her team winning was to play hard. Afterwards, she said, “I liked our effort. We played really well, executed our game plan well and adjusted well.”
She was particularly pleased with the team only giving up seven offensive rebounds to the Illini.
Versyp wants her team rested and plans to take advantage of not playing on Thursday.
“We’ll give them two days off,” she said, “then we’ll prep on Wednesday and go up there on Thursday.”
Illinois with its No. 6-seed will face number No. 11 Wisconsin in the second game of the day on Thursday with the winner facing Purdue in the second game on Friday.
Greg Flint is a freelance writer/photographer for the Commercial-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org