Chichi Nweke had a goal and an assist in 29 minutes of action as No. 15 Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 4-1 win at Saint Louis.
Nov. 12, 2006
ST. LOUIS - Third-seeded and 15th-ranked Illinois pulled out to a two-goal halftime lead and got out of a tense stretch after halftime with a pair of goals as the Illini downed Saint Louis 4-1 to advance to a Sweet Sixteen match at second-seeded Florida State next weekend. Chichi Nweke spurred the Illini attack in the first half, scoring a goal and notching an assist in just 29 minutes of action, and the loss was the Billikens' first at home since Sept. 11, 2005, while Illinois advances to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
"We have so many weapons that we can utilize," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said of the Illini's four different goal-scorers against SLU. "Today, the pieces came together for us and that's what we've been striving for and that's what we'll keep trying to do going forward."
Illinois started strong, earning a couple of scoring chances early, but wasn't able to put them in the net. But in the 19th minute, the Illini scored off a scrum in the box when Kristy Weeks' attempted pass bounced off a Billiken defender and back off her thigh, where it ricocheted to the foot of Chichi Nweke. Nweke wound up and put a shot off another SLU defender and past SLU goalkeeper Hannah Koesterer for Illinois' first goal of the game.
"Chichi is a natural goal-scorer, so she's one of those people who doesn't even really remember what happens because it just happens and she puts the ball in," Rayfield said. "We put her in the game because we were getting chances and we had somebody on our bench who's pretty good at finishing in all sorts of different ways. The ball bounced her way in the box and she probably didn't even realize what happened until after it was over and the ball's in because it's just a natural instinct."
Two minutes and three seconds later, Nweke dribbled the ball up the left flank and found Masar just to the left of the top of the 18. She bounced a ball through two SLU defenders, turned and fired a rocket off the right post and into the goal from 14 yards, putting Illinois up 2-0 in the 20th minute. The goal also moved Masar atop the all-time Illinois NCAA Tournament scoring list with six points.
"We figured they had watched our tape and figured out what we were trying to do, so we came at them a little bit differently and tried to play someone high on their deep sweeper and see if that could give us some space to play and some problems to cause," Rayfield said. "I think that paid off early. As they were trying to deal with our high person, we were able to find different things and get opportunities in the box."
Nine minutes into the second period, the Billikens drew within a goal when Julia Bradenburg got to the end line and served across an empty net, where Dee Guempel pounded it in to the net from two yards out, making the score 2-1 in Illinois' favor.
Seconds later, Illinois drew three consecutive corner kicks but was unable to convert on any of them as SLU repeatedly averted danger. The closest call came on the second corner when Brittany Garrett's serve bent past the keeper, who was playing toward the near post, but a SLU defender knocked it out and over the goal.
Two minutes later, the Illini again drew a corner kick, with Kristy Weeks taking the serve. Weeks bent a ball to the head of Kara Gostisha, who redirected it to Strickland. Strickland then powered in a shot far post from six yards on the left side at 60:47, putting Illinois back up by two goals, 3-1.
Twice in the 75th minute, Lindsey Carstens proved her mettle with leaping punch-saves over the top of the crossbar. SLU sent in a high shot at 74:03 that Carstens stayed on her line for before popping it over the goal, and at 75:20, she punched another over the crossbar to stifle a Billiken scoring chance.
In the 79th minute, Brittany Garrett sent in a deep throw from the right sideline and possessed the ball after a SLU defender headed it out of the box. She then sliced through a couple of Billikens and scored near post from the corner of the six-yard box for her first career goal, posting the Illini to a 4-1 lead.
"She's stepped on in the second half of the season and has done a great job," Rayfield said of Garrett. "She's a player who, coming up through the youth ranks, has played a number of different positions, so she's comfortable on the ball.