There was a two-headed monster lurking down low in the post at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday night.
Just like in the IU women’s basketball team’s win over Northwestern on Feb. 4, senior forward Amanda Cahill and junior forward Kym Royster delivered for the Hoosiers as they rolled to a 70-54 win over Illinois.
If it wasn’t one that was terrorizing the Illini, the other would step up in her place.
In the first half, it was Cahill’s turn. After the Hoosiers jumped out to a 14-10 lead after the first quarter, all eyes were on Illinois star forward Alex Wittinger.
The 6-foot-1 junior carried the Illini in the first by stepping out and nailing one mid-range jumper after another in the faces of Cahill and Royster. She had six of Illinois’ 10 points and looked to be a tough match-up for IU moving forward.
After Illinois got back within two with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, IU Coach Teri Moren called a timeout to settle down her team. From there, they closed out the quarter on a 17-7 run to take a 35-23 lead into halftime.
They picked up the defensive intensity on Wittinger, holding her to just two points in the period while shooting 62 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
When Cahill muscled through the contact from an Illinois defender and her shot kissed off the glass as the first half buzzer sounded, it capped off a 12-point, four-rebound and 4-5 shooting first half performance from her.
“Amanda is being really aggressive, which is good for us,” Moren said. “There’s really not a bad shot that she can take.”
While the Hoosiers only gave up nine Illinois first half rebounds, five of those were offensive. Moren said getting in better position while blocking out was a major focal point for her team at halftime.
“Wittinger is great at chasing down her own shot,” Moren said. “That was a point of emphasis that we had to control the boards.”
When the second half came around, it was Royster’s time to shine. After scoring just two points in the first half, she opened the third quarter scoring IU’s first five points to extend their lead.
However, the Hoosiers couldn’t distance themselves from the Illini. Illinois went on an 11-5 run to get back within six points with two and a half minutes to go in the quarter, but Royster responded by answering the call once again. She scored two straight buckets for four points to end the quarter and get the Hoosiers’ lead back to double digits.
On the second of those buckets, Royster and Cahill combined for three offensive rebounds in the same possession that eventually led to an easy Royster layup down low. The two also combined for all 14 of IU’s third quarter points, giving them a 49-39 lead and plenty of momentum heading into the fourth.
There, the Hoosiers managed to distance themselves from the Illini to secure the 70-54 victory. Cahill closed out with 20 points and six rebounds while Royster countered with 19 points and six rebounds of her own. Royster scored 17 of her 19 points and grabbed five of her six rebounds in the second half.
“I’ve just been trying to get those second-chance opportunities off the offensive rebounds,” Royster said. “We’ve talked a lot about starting off quarters strong so I’ve just been trying to do what I can to help the team get off to a good start.”
Senior guard Tyra Buss was also in double-figures with 16 points to go along with six assists, and freshman guard Bendu Yeaney contributed nine points. Meanwhile, fellow freshman guard Jaelynn Penn finished with six points and six rebounds and Moren said she played some of the best defense on the night for her team.
IU managed to silence Wittinger, Illinois’ leading scorer, by getting her in foul trouble and holding her just one second half point.
“We were trying to really emphasize getting up and making her put it on the floor and then have the guards kind of crowd her,” Cahill said. “I think we did a much better job of doing that in the second half.”
They also held the Illini to just 4-21 shooting from behind the arc while shooting 22-44 from the field and 7-19 from three themselves.
The win was IU’s fifth straight to get them up to 13-12 on the year and 6-6 in the Big Ten. It’s their longest win streak of the season and gives them a maximum amount of momentum heading into a rivalry game on Feb. 12 at Purdue.
“There’s a lot we have to be ready for,” Moren said. “There’s going to be a lot of emotion in the arena on both sides.”
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