Purdue Claims Title Over Illini
Illinois took top-seed and top-ranked Purdue down to the wire, but the Boilermakers outlasted the Illini 80-76 Monday night to claim their second consecutie Big Ten Tournament championship.
Illinois stayed close throughout on the strength of career games from Tauja Catchings and Allison Curtin. Catchings scored a career-best 26 on 11 of 16 shooting, and Curtin started for the first time in the tournament and rung up a career-high 24 points, including 4-4 from three-point range.
Illinois closed a three point Purdue lead to one on a Susan Blauser layup with :19 seconds remaining. The Illini called a :20 time out after an Alicia Sheeler foul, and then Stephanie White-McCarty sank two free throws to rebuild the Boilermaker lead. A Katie Douglas block was followed by a Sheeler foul, and Kelly Komara split a pair at the line to put Purdue ahead four. Ukari Figgs stole the ball from Sheeler on Illinois' final possession, sealing the title for Purdue.
"It was a great championship game," Illinois head coach Theresa Grentz said. I salute the Purdue program, players and staff. As far as my players, I'm extremely proud of them. They were absolutely mgnificent.
"It was almost like two fighters getting a feel for each other. We were definitely the contender. In the second half we took some punches."
Catchings and Curtin were named to the All-Tournament Team from Illinois, along with Purdue's Figgs, Douglas and White-McCarty, who was also named Tournament MVP.
"I wanted to make sure we stayed focused and took care of the ball," White-McCarty said. "We wanted to play good defense and keep them off the boards. We had to be patient and stay composed."
The tournament title earns Purdue an automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. Illinois will learn its fate when the at-large bids are announced on March 7.