Illinois Falls to North Carolina in Cancun Challenge
Nov. 30, 2013
CANCUN, Mexico - It was a tale of two halves in the final game of the Cancun Challenge as the Illinois women's basketball team (5-3) looked to upset No. 11 North Carolina (6-2). The Illini had a seven-point lead midway through the first half and just trailed by 10 at halftime, but the Tar Heels outscored Illinois 45-19 in the second half to take the contest, 87-51.
"I was proud of the way we played in the first half," said Illinois head coach Matt Bollant. "I thought we fought and even though we went down 10 at the end of the half, I thought we were the more aggressive team and played with a lot of energy. At the start of the second half, we cut it to seven and felt like we had some things going, but we then got a little tired and didn't fight. That was really disappointing. They weren't doing the things we were asking them to do and weren't very coachable during that UNC run."
The Illini jumped on the Tar Heels in the early goings primarily thanks to Sarah Hartwell, who scored all of her 11 points in the first half. In addition, freshman Jacqui Grant asserted her will on the offensive boards, giving the Illini second chances early and often. As a result, Illinois found itself with a 17-10 lead after the first eight minutes.
However, North Carolina's three-point shooting, four of their first five made field goals, sparked a rally and the Tar Heels grabbed their first lead of the game at the 10:40 mark. It was a back-and-forth battle until the fouls began to roll in for the Illini, as Ivory Crawford and Alexis Smith accumulated three fouls each and went to the bench with roughly six minutes left in the half.
UNC then capitalized with two separate 6-0 runs - including one to end the half - which resulted in a 42-32 UNC lead at halftime.
Despite the setback, Illini tried to fight back to start the second half as Amber Moore connected on a three-pointer to cut the lead to seven. UNC and Illinois traded a few baskets until the Tar Heels hit their stride with a 12-2 run, which moved the score to 64-44 in their favor.
Foul trouble continued to plague the Illini in the game as Ivory Crawford fouled out with 11 minutes remaining and valuable playing time among starters was cut into due to Grant, Moore and Smith all playing with four fouls.
North Carolina proceeded to run away with it in the second half, keeping the Illini off the board from the 10:40 mark to 5:17. When the final buzzer sounded, North Carolina moved to 5-0 in the series against Illinois. Meanwhile, the Illini leave Mexico with a 1-2 Cancun Challenge record and fall to 5-3 overall.
UNC outscored Illinois in the paint 50-28, with 32 of those points coming in the second half. The Tar Heels also frustrated the Illini offense into committing a season-high 22 turnovers, which they converted into 26 points.
Sarah Hartwell led the squad with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field. She was followed by Amber Moore who also reached double figures with 10 points. Furthermore, Jacqui Grant grabbed 12 rebounds and totaled eight points.
UNC was led by Stephanie Mavunga, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, her fifth double-double. Allisha Gray and Diamond DeShields also tallied double figures with 15 and 18 points, respectively.
"A postive was the Arkansas State game and how we responded in that game," said Bollant on the tournament as a whole. "We need Crawford to be consistent. Today fouling out after 16 minutes of play really hurt our team. Also, Sarah Hartwell was good today. She had a good second half yesterday and first half today. We just need to grow and get better."
The Fighting Illini will have a short turnaround for they travel to Atlanta for an encounter with Georgia Tech on Dec. 4, then fly out to Colorado for a showdown with the No. 14 Buffaloes on Dec. 7.