NORMAL — Grasping the courtside microphone shortly after the conclusion of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal game, Illinois State women’s basketball coach Stephanie Glance could wait no longer to praise her team.
Yes, the Redbirds were that good Sunday at Redbird Arena.
“Give this group a huge round of applause,” Glance told the all-too-happy-to-oblige crowd of 2,386 who had witnessed ISU’s convincing 60-49 victory over Arkansas. “They have great character, work ethic and will to win.”
The Redbirds also have their third consecutive WNIT semifinal berth and will meet Southern California at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Redbird Arena.
“It was another great day in Redbird Arena,” Glance said later at her postgame media session. “I’m really, really proud of this team and how we’re playing right now. We’re playing at such a high level, competing and executing.”
ISU (24-10) won its 17th home game without a loss as Shala Jackson and Katie Broadway each scored 16 points, post players Kenyatta Shelton and Emily Hanley combined for 19 points and 23 rebounds and point guard Amanda Clifton handed out nine assists.
“I’m not ready for those five seniors to go,” said Broadway, the lone junior in ISU’s top six. “I’ve been with them for three years now and I love playing with them.”
The Redbirds bolted to a 10-0 lead on Broadway’s 3-pointer at the 15:31 mark. Arkansas (22-12) never led and hit just one of its first 18 shots.
“We missed an awful lot of shots and their defense was real solid,” said Razorbacks’ coach Tom Collen. “I think our players were a little surprised how physical they were. They are a pretty physical mid-major team anyway because they play so hard. But they were especially physical with us.”
A Jackson three-point play with 4:23 left in the half extended the ISU lead to 25-9.
“We came out ready,” Jackson said. “It’s that passion we have. We’re ready to go. Let’s get it done.”
The Redbirds turned a 13-point halftime lead into a 19-point bulge with 3-pointers from Jackson and Broadway to open the second half. After a free throw from Arkansas’ Ashley Daniels, Broadway drained a baseline jumper for a 39-19 ISU margin.
The Razorbacks, who played the first 24 minutes as if they had walked from Fayetteville, showed signs of life when a Quistelle Williams 3-pointer whittled their deficit to 43-31.
But Hanley responded with a jumper, Jackson connected from 15 feet and Broadway followed with an 18-footer and a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 21 with 10:02 remaining.
“My teammates kept giving me all the confidence in the world,” said Broadway, who was 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. “That’s in the back of my mind knowing they want me to shoot the ball.”
The Redbirds held the Razorbacks to 26.6 percent shooting (17 of 64) and outrebounded their taller opponents, 47-36, behind 12 boards from Hanley and 11 by Shelton.
“Their physicalness probably forced us to miss some easy shots,” Collen said. “While we were missing easy shots, they scored and got the crowd in the game. We could just never dig ourselves out of the hole.”
Sarah Watkins was the lone Arkansas player in double figures with 16 points. C’eira Ricketts, who has been ill the past two days, was held to half her 14-point average on 2 of 14 shooting.
“I think this group was challenged to get an SEC (Southeastern Conference) opponent,” said Glance. “It was a great challenge to play a team from another great conference and have an opportunity to win the game. I think that was great motivation also.”
USC next up for ISU
The Illinois State women will face Southern California at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at Redbird Arena.
The Redbirds are 24-10 overall and 17-0 at home. USC has a 23-12 record.
Tickets are available at the Redbird Arena Ticket Office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by calling 309 438-8000 or may be purchased online at goredbirds.com. Ticket cost is $11 for adults, $7 for children under 18 and free for ISU students. All seating is general admission.
Other WNIT scores
Toledo 71, Syracuse 68, OT
USC 87, Colorado 70
Illinois State vs. USC
Toledo vs. Charlotte