"We found out which one we can't play without," said Illinois coach Theresa Grentz after a heartbreaking 76-73 loss to Northwestern Friday in Champaign, Ill.
Illinois posted big wins at Michigan State without Melissa Parker and at Minnesota minus Tauja Catchings. The Illini led Northwestern, 47-36 with 15:26 left in the game when the Big Ten's leading scorer Susan Blauser left with a sprained ankle. Northwestern saw and opening an took advantage to out-gun the Illini in a second half shoot-out.
Megan Chawansky scored 26 points and became the first Northwestern player with 1,600 points, 600 rebounds, 500 assists and 150 steals with her six assists tonight.
The win was Northwestern's second straight on the road and ended a three-game losing streak to Illinois, while stopping the Illini's three-game win streak overall.
Without Blauser, the Illini turned to Parker, who scored 15 of her team-high 22 points in the second half, nine on three treys. Her three-pointer with 10:40 left gave the Illini a 57-49 lead, ended a mini NU run, and seemed to give the Illini a spark. After Northwestern cut it to 59-55, Parker nailed a short jumper to make it a six-point margin again.
Northwestern finally pulled even at 67-67 when Dana Leonard (10 points) nailed a trey with 4:32 left. Alicia Sheeler, who posted her 17th double-double of her career (12 points, 15 rebounds) scored to give Illinois its last lead at 69-67 with 2:30 to go.
Leslie Schock (22 points, 11 rebounds) gave Northwestern its first lead of the second half with a shot in the lane, making it 70-69. Chawansky made all six of her free throws to help stave off Illinois' futile effort. Parker hit a three point shot to cut the gap to 74-73 with five seconds to play, but missed a 35-footer at the buzzer after Chawansky nailed two charity shots with 4.6 seconds to play.
The first half was nip and tuck after Northwestern bolted to an early 12-6 advantage. Illinois went on an 11-5 run to close the first half and an 11-4 run to start the second half to seemingly take control of the game before Blauser's injury.
Allison Curtin had 11 of her 13 points in the first half for Illinois.