INDIANAPOLIS—On a team that has one senior and features a scattering of freshman and sophomores, there was at least one constant.
While there play was up and down from game to game and week to week, the Illinois had a way of bringing out the best out of Indiana women's basketball.
In two games between the two, on January 7th in Bloomington and February 7th in Champaign, Indiana found their rhythm and consistency against the Illini, and produced their only season sweep of an opponent in the Big Ten during the 2009-2010 season.
It was a past that brought confidence in the present for Hoosiers' head coach Felisha Legette-Jack when the teams matched up again in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
"We thought we had the right game plan, the right karma, the right frame of mind," said the coach as the team got ready to face the Illini for the third time.
Everything, according to Legette-Jack, went to plan over 40 minutes on the court at Conseco Fieldhouse-with one exception.
"The shots didn't go down," said the coach with a sad smile on her face, and she was right.
Indiana shot 28 percent from the field, hitting just 20 of their 73 shots on the game, and made the third time the harm against the Illini, who finally found a way to upend the Hoosiers 59-53 Thursday night.
"We had wide open shots, we had wonderful plays, we did the right things, we got them to turn the ball over 25 times, we got 21 offensive rebounds against an amazing defensive team," said Legette-Jack. "At the end of the day you've got to put the ball in the hole."
Illinois did, eight times in fact from forward Jenna Smith herself, as she led the Illini with a game-high 23 points in helping them move on to a second round date with the top-seeded team in the tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
"It think we need to come off from the jump and play aggressive," said Smith, who played in two losses to Indiana earlier this year. "Everybody played with confidence, then it will flow."
It also did for the Hoosiers for most of the game, as they were able to keep the Illini within an arms reach but couldn't put the ball in the bucket to pull ahead. Jamie Braun's hoop and foul with 8:16 to go in the first half cut the Illini lead to three, but the Hoosiers could only muster three buckets the rest of the way and never got the lead.
"We weren't hitting some layups that we should have been hitting and they weren't giving us the second opportunities," said Braun, who finished her Indiana career with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Shooting struggles continued through most of the second half, as Illinois opened the advantage up to nine at points throughout the final 20 minutes. A late flurry by the Hoosiers-produced by timely steals and free throws-helped to cut the Illinois lead to two with 30 seconds left when Jori Davis hit a pair from the line.
The Illini, however, would never let it get any closer, hitting their free throws and sealing their ticket to the second round, ending Indiana's season at 14-16.
"We really wanted the game, we really had our hopes high going into the game and you know we fought hard and we left it all there on the court," said Davis, who finished with a team-high 20 points.