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Valiant effort falls short for Badgers

INDIANAPOLIS -- The No. 8 seeded Badgers were knocked out in the first round of the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament Thursday afternoon by No. 9 Illinois at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Senior Jolene Anderson recorded her 26th career double-double in the game, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds, in the 73-58 loss. The Badgers drop to 16-13 overall, while Illinois improves to 17-13 overall.

While the Badgers won the tip right off the bat, poor shooting and rebounding, combined with slow transition defense allowed the Fighting Illini to go up 13-4 over UW through the first five minutes of play. A 3-pointer by Jolene Anderson ended Illinois' five unanswered points to make it 11-7 with 14 minutes to go in the first.

Through the first 10 minutes, Illinois pulled ahead of UW by nine points on two separate occasions. With 9:56 to go, the Illini led Wisconsin, 23-14, much in part to the play of Jenna Smith and Lori Bjork, who together totaled 16 points. Back-to-back scores by Anderson and Danielle Ward cut the deficit to five, 23-18, with 5:52 remaining in the first.

The Badgers were able to pull within three points, 23-20, with the help of at least eight straight missed shots on the Illinois end. Illinois' scoring drought, however, was resolved with the help of senior guard Rebecca Harris, who finished off a hard drive with a score to make it 25-20 with less than five minutes on the clock.

At the break, Illinois had maintained its lead and had six points on UW, 34-28. Illinois' Smith and Anderson appeared to be going head-to-head finishing the first 20 minutes with similar numbers. Smith had 13 points and eight boards at the half, while Anderson tallied 12 points and seven rebounds for the Badgers. UW's Danielle Ward also added 10 points and five rebounds.

Statistically, both teams displayed similar numbers at halftime, with Illinois barely edging UW in most categories. Illinois had 20 rebounds, four turnovers and 16 points in the paint at the break, while Wisconsin recorded 18 rebounds, seven turnovers and 16 points in the paint. Illinois hit 13-of-32 shots for an average of 40.6, while UW hit 11-of-28 for a shooting percentage of 39.3.

Just four baskets were made in the first 4:15 of the second half, three of them falling Illinois' way. A 3-pointer by Harris at the 15:45 mark gave the Illini its largest lead of the game at that point, 41-30. One possession later Illinois climbed to a 13-point lead, 43-30, but a 3-pointer by freshman Alyssa Karel cut the deficit to 10 again, 43-33 with less than 15 minutes to play.

Through 9:17 of the second, Wisconsin had tallied just seven points, while Illinois added 20 to its total. With the Illini shooting 57.1 percent from the field and UW making just 20 percent of its shots, Illinois pulled ahead to a 19-point lead, 54-35.

Illinois continued to pull down the boards and finish its shots, and although Wisconsin made headway, the Illini were too strong for the Badgers to catch up.

With 1:46 on the clock, the Illini led by 15 points, 66-51. A 3-pointer by Karel brought UW within 12 points, but the game was decided in favor of Illinois. A final score of 73-58 kept Illinois in the running for Big Ten Tournament champion.

Up next, Illinois heads to the quarterfinals to face No. 1 seed Ohio State, which finished the season 22-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten for a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Friday's game is slated for 5 p.m. CST.

Selection Monday on March 17 will determine the fate of Wisconsin's post-season play.