CHAMPAIGN – There weren’t too many positives for the Michigan women’s basketball team to take from its loss to Illinois about a month ago back in Ann Arbor.
But the one that should have stood out is the fact that the Wolverines held the Illini’s leading scorer, Lori Bjork, to her lowest point total of the season (eight points).
On Thursday night, there was no such luck for Michigan.
The Johnston, Iowa, native lit up the Wolverines for 25 points in front of her home crowd, helping the Illini coast to a 65-44 win at Assembly Hall.
While Bjork’s shooting was spot-on, the Wolverines couldn’t find a rhythm until the middle of the second half. With 15 first-half points, the sophomore guard notched two more than the entire Michigan team during the first frame. The performance not only gave Illinois a 35-13 lead to go into halftime, but also prompted the Illini fan section to chant “Lori’s winning,” to begin the second period.
Michigan actually held a 4-2 advantage to start the game, following buckets from sophomore Carly Benson and freshman Krista Phillips. But then things got ugly in a hurry for the Wolverines (2-8 Big Ten, 9-14 overall).
The team went nearly six minutes without a point, as the Illini (6-3, 16-5) went on an 11-0 run during the same span.
Even worse, the Wolverines converted just four of their next 28 shots to shoot 19 percent for the first half, leaving them in a deep hole on the road.
“Our shots just weren’t falling for us today,” sophomore point guard Jessica Minnfield said. “I don’t really have anything else to explain it.”
There was no explanation from Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett either.
“There’s no question that shooting the percentage that we did in the first half, that it’s going to be very difficult to be successful,” Burnett said.
Bjork was the bright spot for an Illini team who also shot poorly in the opening frame. Outside of Bjork’s 5-of-7 shooting in the first half, Illinois shot just 25 percent (6-of-24) from the floor in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
But her performance was more than enough to give the Illini the edge. Bjork connected on 6-of-9 from 3-point range, including 5-of-6 in the first period.
She knocked down a triple as time expired in the first half, putting an exclamation point on what had already been a one-sided affair.
“We knew that Bjork was somebody we had to stop,” Burnett said. “We gave her way too many open looks. Illinois does a great job with their post play to free her up behind the line.”
Michigan managed to outscore the Illini 31-30 in the second half, behind a solid showing from Phillips, who scored a team-high 10 points. Her post presence, along with the team’s hustle and increased aggression, made the score look more respectable. But by that point, the game was all but decided, as the Illini held a lead as large as 26 midway through the second frame.
“I thought our kids tried to remain positive in the second half,” Burnett said. “We changed defenses and some good things came out of it, but not enough good things to really fight our way back into the game.”