Despite struggling offensively most of the game, Illinois used a 12-4 run to cut the deficit to three points with three minutes left, only to be held scoreless the rest of the game as Clemson pulled away at the free throw line for a 63-51 win in Clemson, S.C., to knock the Illini out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round on Sunday.
The host-Tigers used a quick, trapping defense to force 20 Illini turnovers and hold the visitors to 30 percent from the field, as Illinois scored the lowest points in a game (51) since Theresa Grentz' first year as the UI head coach in 1995-96. Purdue routed the Illini 88-47 on January 4, 1996.
The Illini stayed close early in the game, taking a 12-11 lead at the 14:30 mark and trailing only 21-17 with nine minutes left in the half. Clemson used a 9-1 run to build its largest lead of the half at 30-18 before ending the first stanza with a 34-24 advantage.
After falling behind by as many as 13 points early in the second half, Illinois chipped away at the lead. Down 45-32, four Illini players contributed to a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 45-39. Clemson responded wtih a three pointer and a putback to rebuild the lead at 50-39 with only 8:34 on the clock. The Illini still trailed 51-43 at the 6:52 mark when four Allison Curtin free throws sparked an 8-3 run. Senior Alicia Sheeler rolled across the lane to hit a layup to make it a 54-51 game with just 3:08 remaining in the contest. From that point, the Tiger defense took over, holding the visitors scoreless while hitting 5-8 free throws down the stretch to seal a 63-51 win.
Illinois shot only 30 percent in the game, including a cold 24 percent during the second half comeback. The Illini failed to hit a three-pointer for the first time in 111 games, since the 1995-96 season, as the visitors shot 0-9 from long range. Susan Blauser led the Illini with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 6-10 from the field, but the rest of the starting lineup shot only 7-39 from the floor. In her final game in Orange and Blue, Sheeler scored 10 points with seven rebounds.
The Illini end the season at 19-12 after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, a UI record.