Women's Basketball
Illini Show Poise Late in 73-65 Win at Memphis

Senior forward Karisma Penn scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds on Sunday.
Senior forward Karisma Penn scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds on Sunday.

Dec. 9, 2012

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Senior forward Karisma Penn led all scorers with 21 points, and she and Alexis Smith drained 8-of-10 free throws in the final 2:11 to seal a 73-65 victory for the University of Illinois women's basketball team over Memphis on Sunday. Penn passed all-time great Tauja Catchings for 10th place on Illinois' career scoring list with 1,504 points and the Illini notched their first true road win of the season as they improve to 5-4 on the campaign.

"Any time you get a road win, you've got to celebrate that because it's hard to get in college basketball," Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. "To come to Memphis and get a good win is important for our team and getting back in the right direction."

Penn led a balanced scoring attack for Illinois, as sophomore Ivory Crawford poured in 17 on 6-of-11 shooting, juniors Amber Moore and Kersten Magrum each scored 12 and sophomore Alexis Smith added nine, as the starting five accounted for 71 of the Illini's 73 points on the day. The Orange and Blue also took advantage of 23 Memphis miscues, outscoring the Tigers 29-16 off turnovers.

Illinois racketed up the defensive intensity early in the second half and put together a 24-8 burst - including a 14-0 run over 5:38 of the second half - that extended the Illini's lead to 50-33 with 12:55 left in the game. The Orange and Blue used the "Buzz" defense to force 10 turnovers and converted those miscues into 12 points during that extended span that stretched to the end of the first half.

"I thought our 'Buzz' (defense) gave us a good lift in the second half," Bollant said. "We practiced and talked about it a lot in the last week or two, they grew in it, then when we made adjustments, they were smart in it and made some good adjustments as well."

Memphis counter-punched with a 6-2 spurt that brought them within 52-41 as Bollant called a timeout at the 9:41 mark. That proved effective, as the Illini played even over the next two minutes, even inching the margin a point farther ahead at 55-43 with 7:39 left in the game.

Memphis cut the Illini lead to 62-53 with a jumper at the 2:35 mark, but Magrum hit 1-of-2 from the line and Smith nailed 4-of-4 on consecutive possessions, extending the lead back to 67-53. A layup, a steal and another layup brought the Tigers within 67-57, but Penn drilled a pair of freebies, pushing Illinois' margin to 12.

The Tigers' Jamila Ajanaku banked in her first three-pointer of the season, then Memphis got a long rebound on a missed three-pointer and Ajanaku laid it in to bring the Tigers within 71-62 with 23 seconds remaining. Smith hit a free throw but Memphis' Ariel Hearn hit a deep three, cutting the Illini margin to 72-65. On the inbounds, Penn was able to dribble a few seconds off the clock before being fouled, then she hit 1-of-2 free throws to seal the 73-65 victory.

After a rocky start to the game for both teams, the Illini kept up their defensive intensity and used a 9-2 run to pull away for a 33-29 advantage at halftime. Penn led all scorers with 12 points and seven rebounds and Illinois limited Memphis leading scorer Nicole Dickson to seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.

In the game, Penn hit 7-of-16 from the field and 7-of-10 from the line to account for 21 points while grabbing a game-high nine rebounds. Crawford had 17 and 5 rebounds, Moore hit 4-of-8 three-pointers for her 12 points, and dished out a game-high five assists. Magrum went 5-of-11 from the field for 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds, while Smith had 9 points, including 7-of-8 shooting from the foul line, and 9 rebounds.

The Illini limited the Tigers to 2-of-11 shooting from beyond the three-point arc in the second half, with both made treys coming in the game's last minute when the outcome was all but decided. Illinois also held Dickson to 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting, including a 1-of-6 day from beyond the arc.

The Orange and Blue return to action Wednesday night, when they host Oregon at 7 p.m. at Assembly Hall, Illinois' last game before the fall final exams week begins on Friday.