Illini Drop Close One to No. 23 Michigan State
Feb. 4, 2007
East Lansing, Mich. - The Fighting Illini gave Michigan State, who is ranked 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, all it could handle on Sunday afternoon at the Breslin Center, but fell to the Spartans 80-70 nonetheless. Sophomore Lori Bjork scored 19 points and nailed five three-pointers for the Illini as they fell to 16-6 overall and 6-4 in the Big Ten. It was MSU's seventh consecutive win over the Orange and Blue and third straight on Super Bowl Sunday.
"I feel like this one was do-able," said Illini head coach Theresa Grentz. "We played well, but MSU did what they need to do to win it. They made the plays down the stretch and we didn't.
"Hopefully we'll learn from this one," continued Grentz. "Missed free throws and turnovers were the keys. MSU did a good job of getting their hands in the passing lanes and disrupted some things late in the game."
After trailing by seven at the break, Illinois tied the game twice and had several chances to take the lead while down one in the second half, but couldn't get over the hump. The Illini tied it at 52 with 15:01 to play, but the Spartans countered with a bucket on their next possession. Then after a Lacey Simpson jumper tied the score at 54 with 14:34 left, MSU responded once again with a score on the other end.
MSU (17-6, 8-2) then pushed the lead to seven, but Illinois battled back and had several chances to take the lead in the final six minutes. Trailing 63-62 around the five minute mark, the Illini turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. Then couple minutes later, trailing 65-64, Erin Wigley missed the front end of a one-and-one, got the offensive rebound and then missed a put-back that would have given the Orange and Blue the lead for the first time since early in the first half.
After those missed opportunities, MSU's Rene Haynes hit a huge three with 3:07 to play to make it 68-64. The back breaker then came at the 1:23 mark, when Victoria Lucas-Perry converted on a three-point play to put MSU up 73-66. Illinois would get no closer than six in the final minute.
In the first half, MSU led by as many as 11 and still led by nine, 35-26, at the 4:31 mark, but that was when Bjork took over, hitting three straight three-pointers in less than two minutes to cut the MSU lead to 37-35. The teams traded baskets until MSU's Mia Johnson hit a three at the halftime buzzer to give the hosts a 46-39 cushion at the break.
Missed free throws doomed the Orange and Blue all day. Entering the game as the top free throw shooting team in Big Ten play at over 81 percent, Illinois made just 6-of-13 from the charity stripe on Sunday, including three front ends of one-and-ones. Turnovers also cost the Illini in the second half, as they piled up 11 in the final 20 minutes, including several on key possessions.
For the game Illinois shot well, hitting 28-of-62 from the field (.452) but hit just 8-of-24 (.333) from behind the arc. Bjork was 7-of-15 overall and 5-of-13 from behind the arc and has nailed 11 threes in the last two games. The Johnston, Iowa native has now hit at least two three-pointers in 22 straight games and at least one in 29 straight, extending her own school record.
Danyel Crutcher was the only other Illini in double-figures with 10 points. Freshman Jenna Smith led the way on the glass, pulling down a game-high nine rebounds. For the game, the top two rebounding teams in the Big Ten battled to a stalemate in that department, each pulling down 35 boards. MSU shot 48 percent for the game and hit 15-of-18 from the line. Mia Johnson (22 points) and Aisha Jefferson (19 points) led the Spartans, while leading scorer Lucas-Perry was held to just eight.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Illini as they head to West Lafayette, Ind., next to face #13/13 Purdue on Thursday, Feb. 8 before returning home to host #5/6 Ohio State on Sunday, Feb. 11 for "Paper the Hall". Fans can get free tickets to the Ohio State game by dropping by the UI Athletic Ticket Office, The News-Gazette or WDWS/WHMS radio.