Notre Dame Beats Illini in Slugfest
The No. 25 Fighting Illini (2-1) gave No. 7 Notre Dame (4-0) all it could handle on its homecourt, nearly pulling off the upset before succumbing in a slugfest, 101-92, in South Bend, Ind., Tuesday night.
The Fighting Irish jumped out quickly to a lead and built a 25-18 advantage with 11:04 left in the half. The lead was at six points (33-27) with 7:09 left when Illinois made its move. Susan Blauser was fouled and made the layup and the three-point play sparked a 6-0 Illini run that ended with a Tauja Catchings jumper and UI's first lead of the game, 35-33 with 4:44 left. Alicia Sheeler was fouled as she tipped the ball in just a few minutes later and the ensuing free throw game Illinois its biggest lead of the game, at 40-37. From that point, Notre Dame outscored Illinois 14-4 to end the half with a 51-44 advantage.
In the second half, Illinois would fall behind by as many as nine points but kept the game close. The Illini pulled within one point on two separate occasions, only to see the hosts reel off consecutive baskets to rebuild the lead. Trailing 80-75 with 7:49 remaining, two baskets by Blauser and Sheeler cut the lead to one and after an ND free throw, Blauser hit two free throws to make it 81-81 with 6:11 left in the game. Once again, Notre Dame responded, going on an 8-2 run to build the lead to 90-83.
The Illini cut the lead to 90-85 and then made their last desperate run. A technical foul called on the Notre Dame bench led to two free throws by Blauser to cut the lead to three. After two ND free throws, Blauser then took the ball straight at Notre Dame's imposing center, 6-5 Ruth Riley, and fouled her out of the game. Her two free throws made it 92-89. But on the ensuing possession, Melissa Parker and Allison Curtin collided, leaving ND's Sheila McMillen wide open for a three-pointer which she hit to nearly ice the game. The Illini cut the lead to four at 96-92 with another Parker three with 1:41 left and Illinois had the chance to climb even closer when Notre Dame turned the ball over. Sheeler scooped the ball off the floor and went coast-to-coast but missed the layup. Catchings earned her fifth foul going for the rebound and the game was over, as ND held on for the 101-92 win.
Blauser scored an Illinois-career-high with 26 points, hitting 12-14 from the free throw line, while grabbing eight rebounds. Parker hit four treys and scored 22 points while Catchings added 18 points and six assists. Illinois was outrebounded 53-41 in the game and Notre Dame shot .471 to Illinois' .373 from the floor.
Illinois now heads to California for the San Diego Tournament from Nov. 27-28. The Illini face Butler in the first round on Friday.