CALIFORNIA 61, ILLINOIS STATE 45
NORMAL, Ill. - Illinois State's postseason run ended in the semifinals of the postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) Thursday night against California, when the Redbirds were defeated by the Golden Bears, 61-45, in front of a record-setting crowd of 6,075 at Redbird Arena.
Senior Maggie Krick ended her illustrious career at ISU with 12 points to lead the way for the Redbirds and Amanda Clifton chipped in 10 points for the Redbirds (28-8) against the Golden Bears (23-13). Illinois State shot 26.9 percent (14-for-52) from the field in the game and was out-rebounded 47-31 by California, who turned those rebounds into 16-second-chance points and 24 points in the paint.
The Redbirds jumped out to an early 5-2 lead over the Golden Bears, thanks to five-straight points from Clifton. Clifton nailed a three-pointer on ISU's second possession and then connected on a jumper on team's third possession to give ISU the advantage at the 18:44 mark. The Golden Bears clawed back and tied the game at 7-7 with just under 15 minutes remaining and the two teams were tied three more times over the next six minutes of play. With the score tied at 13-13 at the 8:14 mark, the Golden Bears took control and went on a 9-0 run to take a nine-point lead at 22-13 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Alexis Jenkins put an end to the near 10-minute scoring drought for the Redbirds with a three-pointer from the left corner to cut the Cal lead to 22-16 with 3:30 left on the clock. However, the Golden Bears finished the half on an 8-0 run to take a 30-16 halftime lead. Illinois State's 16 points at the break marked its lowest first-half scoring output of the season and the 'Birds shot just 23.8 percent (5-for-21) from the field. Cal held a commanding 27-10 rebounding advantage and that led to 16 points in the paint and 12 second-chance points during the first 20 minutes of play.
Illinois State came out of the break firing on all cylinders and put together a 9-2 run over the first four minutes of play to cut the California lead to 32-25. Krick and Ashleen Bracey each scored three-points during the run to cut into the deficit, with Krick's three points coming on three-consecutive free throws after she was fouled behind the three-point line.
California put a stop to the Illinois State run when Natasha Vital hit a jumper at the 13:56 and Lauren Grief converted a layup a minute later to make the score 36-25. Shala Jackson then hit a three-pointer from the left corner to cut the lead back to eight points at 36-28, but the Golden Bears answered with a three-pointer of their own from Alexis Gray-Lawson to extend the lead to 39-28 with 11:17 left in the game.
The Golden Bears maintained that double-digit lead and eventually extended it to 15 points at 48-33 with just over five minutes left in the game, after a layup by Talia Caldwell. Bracey fired right back with a three-pointer to cut the lead back to 12 points, but Vital nailed a jumper quickly after to widen the Cal lead to 14 points with just over four minutes left in the game.
Illinois State cut the California lead to 11 points on a jumper by Krick with 1:20 remaining, but the Golden Bears stayed in control down the stretch to advance to Saturday's WNIT championship game against Miami.