The 2010-11 Fighting Illini ended the season on a high note, putting together a surprise run in the Big Ten Tournament. Seeded 11th in the conference tournament, the Illini upset sixth-seeded Wisconsin and third-seeded Michigan in convincing fashion before falling to second-seeded Penn State in the semifinals. With no seniors on the roster, the late-season surge provided a glimpse of what the team is capable of in the future.
Sophomore forward Karisma Penn had a breakout year, averaging 17.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors and Big Ten Player of the Week accolades four times. Penn broke the single-season school record for blocks in a season with 78 and was one of just six players nationally to average 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. Redshirt freshman Amber Moore earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after breaking the UI freshman record with 65 made three-pointers.
The Illini also got big contributions from juniors Lydia McCully (7.3 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Lana Rukavina (5.6 ppg, 40% 3FG), sophomore Adrienne GodBold and freshmen Centrese McGee (32 starts, 5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Alexis Burke (Rainbow Wahine Showdown All-Tournament Team). The squad was hurt by the loss of starter Kersten Magrum, who missed all but three games with a stress injury in her right foot.
The Illini had a three-game winning streak early in the season, including a 104-63 blowout win over Cal Poly in front of a big Youth Day crowd at Assembly Hall. The 103 points marked the most by an Illini team in 12 years. The Illini also picked up a road win at Colorado and a win over sister-school UIC at the United Center before conference play.
In Big Ten action the Illini started 2-2 with early victories over Minnesota and at Indiana, but then fell on hard times after a string of heart-breaking, buzzer-beating losses. Illinois dropped five games where the opponent made a game-winning shot in the final 10 seconds with the game tied or Illinois leading.
Despite ending the regular season on a 12-game skid, the team regrouped to play its best basketball in the postseason, something Jolette Law teams are known for. The Illini are 7-4 in the Big Ten Tournament since Law took over as coach in 2007-08, including a trip to the final in 2008 and the semifinals in 2011. Illinois was an underdog in all 11 of those games.