Last night, Illinois was able to do what no other Big Ten team has done this season – beat Michigan in Crisler Arena.
Entering the contest, the Wolverines were 8-0 at home.
The Fighting Illini beat Michigan, 66-61. Last Thursday, they snapped a four-game losing streak, upsetting the Big Ten’s only ranked team, Ohio State, 68-64.
“Obviously we were hoping to come out with a win and go 9-0 at home,” junior Stephany Skrba said. “It just sucks.”
Winning on the road is an irregular occurrence for Illinois. Coming into last night’s game, the Illini had won just one conference road game, and that was against Northwestern, a team that has yet to win a Big Ten game.
In the first half of the game, Michigan and Illinois played uninspired basketball. The Wolverines (5-6 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) inched into halftime with a 32-29 lead.
But in the second half, both teams went back and forth – there were nine lead changes and seven ties in the second half.
Whatever Michigan did, Illinois quickly responded.
“We stopped them, and they’d pull up a jump shot in our face,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “And when we didn’t, they would end up with the offensive rebound.”
Illinois (5-6, 13-9) outshot the Wolverines by 11 in the second half. Michigan couldn’t shut down the Illini, forcing just six turnovers.
“If a team has six turnovers against you, you ain’t beating them,” Borseth said. “Good players can score. Great players stop good players from scoring.”
By Borseth’s reasoning, his team played well but not great, because Michigan had its best shooting night in conference play (51.2 percent).
But in the final eight and a half minutes, the Wolverines made just one basket – a turn-around jumper from Skrba.
Meanwhile, Michigan blew a five-point lead, allowing the Illini’s crew of over-six-foot shooters to heat up from the perimeter.
“We needed to play really well to beat these people,” Borseth said. “And things didn’t bounce our way.”
The Illini made 10 3-pointers, including a stretch where they scored from beyond the arc on three straight possessions. Junior Lori Bjork connected on four of the eight 3-point shots she took.
Illinois’ outside shooting helped it establish an inside game, led by sophomore Jenna Smith, who had a game-high 16 points.
“It was difficult (to guard her),” sophomore Krista Phillips said. “I knew going in it was going to be a battle, but I felt that we did a decent job. But she’s going to score points.”
For Michigan, Skrba came off the bench and led the team in scoring for the second straight game, putting up 14.
Coming into last night’s contest, the Wolverines had dropped two close games on the road but had high hopes for the two-game homestand this week.
Losing to Illinois was not in the plans. But Michigan has another chance at home against Penn State Thursday.
“We play well at home,” Skrba said. “We just have to stay confident. We’ll get it back Thursday.”