Hawkeyes mount another conference victory

BY JON FRANK | FEBRUARY 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa’s up-tempo offense decimated Illinois’ prayers for an upset in the late stage of the second half.

Thursday’s 83-64 win over the Fighting Illini (7-21, 2-13) extended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten winning streak to four games.

The game clock read 3:38 as the raucous home crowd stood on its feet at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, singing along to “The Iowa Fight Song.” Fans, players, and even coaches knew that it would take nothing short of a miracle for Illinois to mount a comeback.

Five minutes before that, the game was up for grabs. Doubt lurked in the minds of players and fans alike as a surprising performance from Illinois — which entered the contest in the Big Ten cellar — threatened to strip seniors Kachine Alexander and Kelsey Cermak of one last W at Carver, their home court for the last four years.

The first half was an as-expected lopsided showing of dominance from Bluder’s Bunch. Fifteen of the Fighting Illini’s 22 turnovers came in the first half, which resulted in 18 points off turnovers for Iowa. Sophomore guard Jaime Printy scored 14 of the team’s 40 first-half points.

All seemed well.

But a resilient Illinois squad returned to the court inspired. Led by Amber Moore’s 9-point second half performance, coach Jolette Law’s team climbed into the driver’s seat and even claimed a 54-53 lead with slightly more than eight minutes remaining.

“Illinois came out really strong in the second half,” said Printy, who finished the night with a career-high 32 points. “We talked at half how we didn’t want to come out and lose energy, because we’ve struggled with that in the past.”

The Illini streak didn’t last.

As the Hawkeyes have routinely done throughout the season, they put together a brilliant offensive attack in the late stages of the game en route to victory.

Illinois’ 54-53 advantage vanished after an 18-4 Iowa run.

“We got our transition going,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We had some really nice passes in transition to find the open player.”

The frantic offensive style — a benchmark for the Hawkeyes this season — quickly erased any prospects of a conference-shaking upset that could have potentially uprooted Big Ten Tournament seeding.

“I kept saying in the huddle, ‘If I don’t have to hear Coach Bluder yell at our offense, I’m fine with that,’ ” said Alexander, who added 18 points to her team’s total. “That’s what we want to do. If we can get easy buckets, that’s the best way to play basketball.”

But the fast break wasn’t always there. At times Iowa failed to box out — a shortcoming that Bluder said accounted for the Fighting Illini’s second-half surge.

“I did not think that we were finding a body and really putting a body on them,” Bluder said. “We were just kind of turning around and trying to jump. And we’re not going to out-jump Illinois. So it’s better if we just work on the fundamentals, and execute that, and get the inside position.”

Thursday’s game served as Iowa’s home finale. The team will travel to play at Indiana on Feb. 27 before heading to Indianapolis for next week’s Big Ten Tournament.

“Good win,” Bluder said. “Nice way for Kach and Kelsey to go out.”

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