Centrese McGee had her first career double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
March 3, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS - There's something about the Big Ten Tournament and Conseco Fieldhouse that makes Jolette Law and the Fighting Illini feel at home. No. 11 seed Illinois improved to 6-3 in the conference tournament since Law arrived in 2007-08 with a 63-56 upset win over No. 6 Wisconsin in Thursday's opening round. The win snapped a school record 12-game losing streak and advanced the Illini into Friday's quarterfinal round where they'll face Michigan at approximately 1:45 p.m. ET/12:45 CT (Big Ten Network).
Illinois (8-22) never trailed in the game and led by as many as 16 in the second half, but the veteran Badgers clawed back to within three in the final minutes. With the Illini leading 59-56 with 40 seconds left, the Illinois defense forced a key turnover and then junior Lydia McCully nailed four free throws in the final 27 seconds to put the game away.
McCully scored 13 of her team-high 17 points in the first half, but her final four points were the biggest of the game as her four free throws in the final seconds secured the win. Freshman Centrese McGee picked a good time for her first career double-double as the 5-8 guard finished with 12 points and collected a career-high and game-high 13 rebounds.
Illinois came out of the gates on fire, jumping out to leads of 10-0 and 23-8. The Illini hit nine of their first 11 shots and five of their first six three-pointers, including three from center Lana Rukavina in the first seven minutes. The Badgers battled back to within 28-22 late in the half, but the Orange and Blue closed with a 6-0 run heading into the break to lead 34-22 at halftime thanks largely to 56 percent shooting.
In the second half, the Illini started looking more for sophomore star Karisma Penn, who was limited to four points and two rebounds in the first half. Penn scored five straight for the Illini at one point as the team built a 44-28 lead with 12:46 remaining. Penn finished the game with nine points, five rebounds and four assists, just the third time this season she didn't score in double-figures. Penn did add two blocked shots to take sole possession of the Illinois single-season blocks record. She now has 72 after entering the game tied with Jenna Smith's record of 70, set last season.
Rukavina joined McCully and McGee in double figures with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting (3-of-4 from three-point range). Redshirt freshman Amber Moore added eight points and six rebounds, while sophomore Adrienne GodBold had six points, three rebounds and two steals. As a team, the Illini shot 48 percent for the game while holding the Badgers to 40 percent from the field.
The Badgers, who tied for third place in the Big Ten regular season standings with a 10-6 record, were led by senior Alyssa Karel's 23 points (10-of-31 shooting).
The win marked just the third time in women's tournament history (17 years) that a No. 11 seed defeated the No. 6 seed in the opening round. Illinois, who has now advanced to at least the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in seven straight seasons, avenged a 60-47 loss at Wisconsin earlier this season.
When Illinois and Michigan (17-11, 10-6) meet in Friday's quarterfinal it will be a rematch of Sunday's season finale at Assembly Hall. Michigan topped the Illini 58-55 on a three-point play by Rachel Sheffer with 0.2 seconds left.