Kicking off a season long five-game road trip, Northern Illinois fell 66-61 in overtime to Illinois Chicago at UIC Pavilion Saturday afternoon.
The Huskies (4-6) put together a strong first half but were outscored by the Flames (3-7) in the second half and overtime as UIC’s Rachel Story erupted for 20 of her game-high 23 points.
“We really played individually and didn’t play well together as a team down the stretch,” said NIU head coach Kathi Bennett. “Our defensive intensity wasn’t good in the second half – we gave up 37 points. We have to make shots, too. We missed too many easy opportunities.”
The toughest stretch of the season for NIU started off the right way, with Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart) scoring 15 of her team-high 19 points in the first half, including hitting a trio of three-pointers in a row to start the game. The Huskies opened the game making eight of their first 10 shots. With solid movement and unselfish play – seven assists on 10 baskets – NIU methodically took a nine-point lead midway through the first half and ended it with a 28-20 edge.
Not only was the offense running well with a 41.7 shooting percentage, the defense stifled UIC to the tune of a 26.1 shooting percentage at the half. NIU was getting easy looks and making the Flames really work.
Then the tide completely turned after the break. The Flames jumped out to a 6-0 run to start the second and had a noticeable change in play, which led to easier looks for them and tougher shots for NIU. The Huskies shot 41.9 percent in the second half, while UIC posted a 52.2 percentage. The bulk of the UIC damage was done by Story, who attacked the paint and shot 9-for-13 from the foul line – 8-for-10 in the second half and overtime.
UIC used an 18-6 run over the first 11 minutes of the second half to take a 38-34 lead. A few minutes later, a jumper, steal by Story in a full-court press and dish to Emily Kobel for a three gave the Flames their largest lead of the game, 48-42, with 4:40 left.
A three-point play by Jada Buggs (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial/Wisconsin) and inbound layup by Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) quickly brought the Huskies back within a point. NIU then exchanged baskets for UIC free throws until Buggs struck again with a critical drive, bump and fade-away jumper while getting fouled. The bucket tied the game with 49 seconds left and gave Buggs a chance to give NIU the lead again, but she missed the free throw.
The NIU defense contested and withstood three attempts by the Flames to end the game and forced overtime for the first time all year. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they shot 1-for-9 in overtime with three turnovers while UIC went 5-for-6 from the foul line as the Flames continued to attack the basket. Story had seven of UIC’s nine points in the period, including scoring the first four points on two jumpers to give UIC a cushion it didn’t relinquish.
For the fifth straight game, Corral scored in a double figures by tallying 19 for the third time this season. Buggs scored 13 in 25 minutes of action. Taylor totaled 12 points along with six rebounds, a career-high five assists and three steals.
The win for UIC was its third straight in the series and gave the Flames a 3-2 record at home this season.
The Huskies continue their road trip with Virginia’s Holiday Inn University Area Cavalier Classic next weekend. NIU starts the event with a 3:30 p.m. CT contest against Xavier in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, Dec. 28.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.