Illini Bounce Back with 70-54 Win vs. Arkansas State
Nov. 29, 2013
CANCUN, Mexico - After Thursday's disappointing loss to Arizona State, Illinois head coach Matt Bollant asked his team to play with courage and that's exactly what he got in day two at the Cancun Challenge, defeating Arkansas State, 70-54. The Illini received strong performances from Ivory Crawford and Amber Moore, who scored a combined 37 points, as Illinois moves to 5-2 on the year.
"We were a lot more aggressive today and more confident," Bollant said. "We weren't ourselves yesterday. A lot of that was Arizona State, who showed it today by knocking off a ranked North Carolina team. We were more ourselves and defended a lot better today for 40 minutes."
The Orange and Blue doubled up the Red Wolves 14-7 in the opening eight minutes of play in which six different Illini contributed points. Yet, Arkansas State would not go away, producing an 8-3 run to end the first half and cut the Illinois lead to 29-28.
The improved Illinois defensive effort was reflected in the halftime stats as the Illini converted 11 Arkansas State turnovers into 10 points. In addition, Ivory Crawford was already in double digits with 11 points.
Moore, who had only four points in the first half, delivered a rejuvenated 13 point effort in the second half to power the Illini offense. The senior started the Cancun Challenge 0-of-6 from beyond the arc but kicked off the second period with a three-pointer that sparked a 13-5 run.
When the Red Wolves slowly closed the gap to seven points with 8:30 remaining, Moore responded again, recording consecutive three-point plays within a 30-second span to drive the lead back up to double digits. Moore finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field while also collecting five rebounds.
"We gave her some space and she got to the foul line," said Bollant of Moore's second-half surge. "She got a little more rhythm going in the second half, made a shot or two and got her confidence going."
Crawford added nine more points in the second half to tally 20 total in the game. Today's effort marked Crawford's fifth career game scoring 20-plus points and her second of the season. She also recorded six rebounds and four assists.
"Ivory Crawford was great throughout," continued Bollant. "We need to see this Ivory on a consistent basis. She was great today. She had four assists and zero turnovers. She just took care of the basketball and gave us another handler."
Freshman Jacqui Grant kept her double-digit scoring streak alive with an 11-point performance today. Grant grabbed a team-high seven boards before fouling out with roughly three minutes remaining.
Alexis Smith got her first start of the season, returning from injury yesterday in the game vs. Arizona State. In 15 minutes of play, Smith totaled four assists and 10 points, with six coming from the free-throw line.
The Illini saw a much improved defensive effort today, limiting Arkansas State to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. Illinois is 5-0 this season when their opponents shoot under 40 percent.
In addition, ASU's Aundrea Gamble, who entered the contest averaging 19 points per game, was limited to just 1-of-7 shooting. Finally, Illinois created 20 Arkansas State turnovers while posting a season low of nine on their end.
Up next, Illinois will battle No. 11 North Carolina Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. UNC is coming off of a 94-81 overtime loss to Arizona State.
"Let's go be us tomorrow," Bollant said about facing North Carolina. "They're coming off of a loss so they're going to be angry. Let's make sure we bring the fight to them and be the more aggressive team. If we can out-hustle them tomorrow, we'll see what happens for us."