Illini Bury Gophers in Big Ten Opener, 64-50
Dec. 30, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini opened Big Ten Conference play with a convincing 64-50 win over Minnesota Thursday night at Assembly Hall. Illinois never trailed and led by as many as 19 while picking up its fourth straight win over the Golden Gophers.
Despite a slow start (1-for-5 first-half shooting), Illini sophomore Karisma Penn finished with a monster stat line of 20 points, 16 rebounds, six steals and five blocks. The rebounds and steals both marked new career-highs, while the double-double was her fifth-straight and her conference-leading ninth of the season.
While Penn struggled to find her range in the first half, her teammates were there to pick up the slack. Juniors Lydia McCully and Lana Rukavina sparked a 17-4 first half run that gave the Illini a 26-12 lead with six minutes left. Both players had nine points at the break as the Orange and Blue took a 30-20 lead into the lockerroom.
Illinois (6-8, 1-0) didn't let up in the second half, never letting the lead slip to single digits while pulling away from a comfortable win. McCully finished with a career-high 18 points on 6-of-9 overall shooting and 5-of-5 free throw shooting, while Rukavina also established a new career-high with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
"Tonight we played a total team game," Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. "When Karisma (Penn) was struggling in the first half Lydia (McCully), Lana (Rukavina) and the rest of the team stepped up and played with confidence. We're looking at the Big Ten season as a fresh start and we're happy to head into 2011 with some positive momentum."
Defensively, the Illini stifled Golden Gophers (8-6, 0-1) all game, holding them to 0-of-10 shooting from behind the arc and 36.5 percent shooting overall (19-of-52). Illinois also out-rebounded the Gophers 37-33 and held a 17-6 edge in second chance points.
The Illini shot 39.0 percent for the game (23-of-59) and shot a season-best 84.2 percent from the free throw line (16-of-19). Illinois entered the game ranked last in the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 61.4 percent, but tonight everyone was hitting their freebies as Penn hit 8-of-10, McCully 5-of-5 and sophomore Adrienne GodBold 3-of-4.
The Illini head will now head to East Lansing, Mich., on Sunday where they'll face the No. 12/16 Michigan State at Noon ET/11 a.m. CT. The game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.