Illinois (11-7, 5-3) climbed into sole possession of third place in the conference and returned to its winning ways at home, as Susan Blauser's career-high 32 points led the Illini to a 94-85 upset of No. 17 Penn State (12-5, 4-3) at the Assembly Hall on Friday night.
Blauser's career-game offset the impressive play of Penn State's Lisa Shepherd, as the Nittany Lion came off the bench to connect on her first eight shots from the floor, including a perfect 6-6 from three-point range, to help the visitors to a second-half lead.
The Illini built an early 17-14 lead before Penn State's long-range bombing turned the first half around. Shepherd's first three-pointer sparked a 17-5 run, as the PSU sophomore hit four treys in the streak. Chrissy Falcone's three-pointer ended the run and gave Penn State a 31-22 lead with 8:25 left in the half.
Shepherd remained perfect from long-range with her fifth trey of the first half to put the visitors up 34-27 before she picked up her second foul and was sent to the bench. The Illini took advantage of Shepherd's absence, going on a 9-1 run to retake the lead at 38-35 with 4:40 on the clock. The two teams remained tight for the rest of the half, before an Alicia Sheeler half-hook put Illinois up 48-46 at the break.
Penn State's Shepherd was a perfect 7-7 from the field in the first half, with five three-pointers, to lead both teams with 19 points. Blauser had a workman-like 15 points in the first half on 5-6 from the floor.
In the second half, neither team could build more than a four-point advantage during the first eight minutes as the lead changed hand nine times. Shepherd improved to 6-6 from long-range as her three-pointer with 12:51 on the clock put Penn State ahead 66-63. That was the last time the Nittany Lions would hold a lead in the game.
The Illini took charge after the Shepherd trey, going on a 21-5 run capped by a Melissa Parker trey to give the hosts an 87-74 lead. Shepherd would be held to 2-7 from the field for the remainder of the game, as Illinois held on for the victory.
The Orange and Blue shot an impressive 54 percent from the floor in the game, holding the Nittany Lions to 43 percent from the field. The Illini were outrebounded 41-36 in the game but forced 21 turnovers.
Blauser led the way with her career-high 32 points, hitting 13-18 shots from the field, while adding eight rebounds and four assists. Tauja Catchings poured in 17 points with six assists, three steals and two blocks. Allison Curtin and Parker added 14 and 10 points respectively, while Sheeler grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Penn State was led by Shepherd's 28 points, while Helen Darling nearly earned a triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
After a stretch when five of the last seven games have been at home, the Fighting Illini hit the road to play at Michigan State on Sunday at 1 p.m.