CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois finished the game on a 27-12 run that included 14 points from senior Karisma Penn and eight from sophomore Ivory Crawford to pull away for a 95-82 victory over Wake Forest in the sixth-annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The victory pushes Illinois' season record to 4-2 and its all-time mark in the Challenge to 3-3. However, the ACC took the Challenge victory, going 7-5 against the Big Ten.
"I'm so proud of our girls for the way they played tonight," Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. "They really battled, especially in the second half, and it was great to see the smiles in the locker room after this one. Our defense isn't where we want it to be, but we showed a lot of toughness and and had great effort tonight."
The 95 points mark the most for the Illini since a 104-point output against Cal Poly on Nov. 22, 2010, and the most against a BCS conference team since posting 96 against Ohio State on Feb. 13, 2001. Illinois salted the game away at the free-throw line, hitting 23-of-26 (88.5 percent) in the game, 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) in the second half and 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) in the game's final eight minutes. Wake Forest shot only 19 free throws in the game, making 11 (57.9 percent).
Penn finished with a game-high and season-high 30 points, and grabbed 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double in six games. Crawford poured in 26, Amber Moore added 13 and Kersten Magrum scored 11 in her return from a shoulder injury that had sidelined her for the last three games. Alexis Smith dished a career-high 14 assists against only three turnovers.
The Illini pulled out to a 48-42 lead at halftime thanks to 7-of-15 shooting from beyond the three-point arc and a 16-4 run near the middle of the half during which Moore supplied eight points.
Wake started strong in the second half, scoring the first four points to cut a six-point Illini halftime lead to 48-46. Illinois gained some distance, extending the margin to eight on a nifty stop-and-go fast-break layup by Crawford on which she got fouled and made the free throw for a three-point play that gave the Illini a 57-49 lead with 16:09 remaining.
The Demon Deacons continued to battle, cutting the margin to one or two points three different times in the next four-plus minutes. But Magrum keyed a 7-2 spurt that pushed Illinois' lead to 67-60, scoring five points, grabbing a pair of rebounds and taking a charge during that stretch.
Wake showed great resiliency, though, scoring eight straight points off three Illini turnovers and a shooting foul to grab a 68-67 lead, only its second of the game and its first since the 18:36 mark of the first half. But after the Demon Deacons took a 70-68 lead at the 8:25 mark, the Illini made a run.
Crawford sank a pair of free throws and, after a missed jumper by Wake's Lakevia Boykin, who finished with 28 points on the night, Penn nailed a pair from the stripe to put the Illini up 72-70. A run-out by Crawford and a layup by Penn were sandwiched around a three by Boykin, then Penn added two more free throws. Amber Moore - who played he last 9:57 despite having four fouls - then drained a three to cap a 13-3 run that turned a two-point deficit for Illinois into a 81-73 lead with 4:47 left in the game.
Wake cut the margin to six with a layup at the 2:29 mark, making the score 84-78, but Moore sank a layup, Penn hit 1-of-2 free throws then drained a pair after a Demon Deacon turnover, pushing the margin over 10 at 89-78. The Illini rolled from there, hitting their free throws as Wake couldn't hit from distance, expanding the final spread to 95-82.
The Illini have a quick turnaround as they return to the Assembly Hall court on Saturday when they host Colorado at 1 p.m. It is UI Faculty and Staff Day, as University of Illinois faculty and staff and their family members will receive $2 tickets with a valid I Card.
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