BLOOMINGTON — When Illinois Wesleyan opened the game with consecutive 3-pointers, the wonder was if the hot hand would continue.
When the Titans forced two jump-ball calls in the first few minutes, the wonder was if the hustle would continue.
When the hosts held Elmhurst to 0 for 8 shooting, forced eight turnovers and made the Bluejays spend two timeouts in the first quarter, the wonder was if the pressure would continue.
The answer to all three was an emphatic nod of the head.
Top-seeded IWU raced out to a 28-4 lead after the first quarter toward a 96-63 rout of fourth-seeded Elmhurst in a semifinal of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin women’s basketball tournament at Shirk Center.
“We came out with guns blazing on both ends,” said Titans coach Mia Smith. “To hold them to four points in a quarter was really great. I love the way we are playing together and for each other.”
Ranked 16th nationally, IWU (23-3) will face second-seeded Wheaton in the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m. Wheaton (22-4) defeated Carthage, 69-54, in the early semifinal behind 26 points from CCIW Newcomer of the Year Hannah Frazier.
The Titans, who nearly reached the century mark for the fourth time this season, led the CCIW in scoring. Wheaton boasts the league’s top defense behind the triple towers of Jill Berg, Devin Kyler and Frazier. All three are 6-foot-2 and combined for 110 blocked shots this season.
“Wheaton can score in multiple ways,” said Smith, named CCIW Coach of the Year earlier in the day. “We want to play our game and not be afraid of them blocking shots because that is something they do so well."
Wheaton has won three straight conference tournament titles and rides a 16-game winning streak into the championship game. IWU and Wheaton split two regular season games, with each winning on its home court.
“Wheaton is so solid and big and long. If we can push the ball, it should be a fun game,” said IWU senior guard Rebekah Ehresman, who was named CCIW Player of the Year. “We realize it’s win or go home pretty much at this point of the season. That is something that brings us together.”
Senior Molly McGraw had a game-high 23 points for the Titans, including 10 of 10 marksmanship from the foul line. She was one of four Titans in double figures, followed by Maddie Merritt’s 15, Ashley Schneider’s 13 and Riley Brovelli’s 12 off the bench.
IWU’s defense eradicated the one-two scoring punch early. Senior Mikaela Eppard, who led the conference in scoring and rebounding, had 12 of her 16 points in the second half. Senior Kaela Jones, who averaged 11.9 points per game, finished with seven.
Saturday’s winner earns an automatic NCAA Division III Tournament bid. At-large bids will be announced Monday.