CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) – Illinois led 58-53 with 3:22 left in the second half but missed its last four shots in regulation and committed two turnovers, allowing Wisconsin to send the game to overtime and grab a 76-64 win in both teams’ Big Ten opener at State Farm Center on Friday. Junior guard Ivory Crawford led the Illini with 20 points and seven rebounds, Alexis Smith scored 15 points and Sarah Hartwell had 12 but Illinois shot 33.8 percent from the field and fell to 7-7 overall, 0-1 in the Big Ten. It was the Illini’s first home loss of the season and snapped an eight-game winning streak at State Farm Center.
“I felt really good about our effort in the first half, but disappointed about how we started in the second half,” Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. “The energy we played with wasn’t there to start the half, but we got it back and fought and built a five-point lead with 3:20 left, then struggled to get any kind of a good shot. Or we had some good looks but didn’t step up and make them. Give Wisconsin credit, Taylor Wurtz was really outstanding. Her three to start overtime was a big shot. They shot 9-of-23 from three-point line and didn’t miss a shot in overtime. Wisconsin stepped up and made plays. I was proud of a lot of the things we did but we just didn’t make enough plays to get it done.
“We had a sluggish start (to the overtime period). Offensively, it looked like a lot of the kids didn’t want to take shots and that was disappointing. You got to have that self-belief to give me the ball and we lacked a little bit of aggressiveness in overtime that we had for most of the night.”
Illinois forced Wisconsin into a season-high 30 turnovers compared to 13 by the Illini, but converted only 29 points off those Badger miscues. Wisconsin shot 50 percent from the field, including 18-of-31 (58 percent) from inside the arc, and was 5-of-5 in the overtime period. Wurtz led the Badgers with 27 points and 19 rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting. A strength for much of the season, Illinois got to the free-throw line only four times in the game, making all four attempts.
To start the game, the Illini forced turnovers on Wisconsin’s first four possessions and converted them into four points, but the Badgers responded with an 8-2 run for a two-point lead at the first media timeout. But Illinois fought back, with Crawford draining a three-pointer and catching a long outlet pass from Alexis Smith for a fast-break layup. After a Wisconsin layup, Smith tallied a trey and Amber Moore hit one as well for an 11-2 run and a 17-10 Illinois lead.
But the Badgers responded with a 7-0 run of their own to even the score. With the game knotted at 21, Crawford converted a three-point play and Hartwell had a run-out lay-up off a long outlet from Crawford to put the Illini ahead 26-21, but Wisconsin pulled within 26-23 with a jumper in the paint with less than a minute left.
The Badgers started the half with an 8-4 spurt but Illinois snuffed out the run with a layup by Amber Moore and a trey from Smith for a 33-31 advantage. After Wisconsin tied it at 33, the Illini went on a 7-0 run that included five points by Hartwell. Illinois forced four Badger turnovers, holding them scoreless on six straight possessions. But, as they did all game, the Badgers battled back, butting the Illini lead to one point at two different times, before Hartwell drained a three at 7:24 to put the Illini up 49-45.
The teams traded baskets then Nicole Bauman drained a trey to bring UW within 51-50. Then Morgan Paige cut into the lane and made a layup for a 53-51 Wisconsin lead. Illinois answered by scoring the next seven points, a three by Smith, a fast-break layup from Moore off a steal, and a jumper from Crawford for the 58-53 lead with 3:22 to go.
But that’s where the wheels came off for Illinois, with Paige hitting two more free throws and Wurtz draining a trey with 1:29 left to tie the game at 58. Smith missed a jumper at the one-minute mark but Jacqui Grant got it back with a steal in the lane on Wisconsin’s next possession. But Grant was whistled for an offensive foul away from the ball with 21 seconds remaining, giving Wisconsin the ball back. Wurtz tried a step-back three-pointer but stepped back too far, landing on the out-of-bounds line. Then Hartwell’s inbounds pass was intercepted by Paige, whose halfcourt attempt was wide left and the teams went to overtime.
Wurtz started the overtime with another three-pointer but Crawford answered with a jumper. Michala Johnson hit a pair of free throws after Crawford was whistled for a foul, then the Illini went cold, missing six straight shots as Wisconsin pulled out to a 12-point lead. Smith’s layup with 49 seconds left cut it to 10, but Wurtz hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the Badger win.
The Illini return to action Monday night when they head to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern at 6 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
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