Chicago is Huskies’ kind of town in Flame dousing

By Dan Moran

CHICAGO—When a team is looking to win on the road for the first time in close to a year, it helps to have the home court advantage.

The NIU women’s basketball team found out how strong its Chicago base is when it turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a convincing 91-75 win over the Illinois-Chicago Flames Saturday night at UIC’s rustic physical education building.

The Huskies (7-9), who had not won on the road since Jan. 30, 1986 at Toledo, found themselves blessed with a home-field advantage of sorts as the majority of the 201 fans in the diminutive gymnasium were Huskie family and friends from the Chicago area.

But more important than the Huskie fans’ vocal domination was the court control displayed by the Huskie players. NIU came back from the 37-27 halftime score by smothering the Flames with a full-court press and making the most of every scoring opportunity.

“In the second half, I think we really stuck to our game plan and definitely controlled what they did,” said Coach Jane Albright. “We talked about two things at halftime. Number one, that we had to control them. Number two is that you can’t win on the road when the other team shoots 33 foul shots like Marquette (an earlier road loss) had done.”

Intimidation and free shots were the keys to success for the Flames in the first 20 minutes. UIC center Donna Clark—all 6 feet 5 inches of her—sat under the basket, waited for rainbow passes from her guards, then muscled her way in for two.

NIU center Tammy Hinchee, who had six points early, played Clark tough and was rewarded with three quick fouls. Senior forward Margaret Zyk then had to contend with the Flame giant.

“She’s a big girl,” Zyk said of Clark. “The refs weren’t giving us too many things with charges or anything. It got a little intense—I think that’s what picked us up.”

But the second half was all NIU. With the Huskie press turned up full, the Flames found themselves unable to sustain a possession. Gena Stubbs kicked off a 15-6 NIU run with two of her team-high 24 points.

As the Huskie romp continued, Stubbs found herself getting hacked time and again. The sophomore forward responded with a 12-for-12 performance at the free-throw line, a new team record for efficiency.

Albright said the Huskies were looking to drive inside and draw fouls after UIC had received nine of the 10 first half free-throws. At game’s end, the Huskies had shot a season-high 86 percent from the line on 25-of-29 shooting.

The Flames offered little resistance in the second half, as NIU outscored them 64-38. Huskie guard Lisa Foss found her jumper in the second frame, notching 15 of her 21 points. Forward Shelly Roberts finished with 19 to move her into fifth-place on the NIU all-time list and within 13 points of 1,000 for her career.

Albright gave her highest marks to senior guard Val Leitzen, who turned in one of the team’s more complete performances of the season in steering the Huskies to victory.

“Val Leitzen I would give the game ball to,” said Albright. “She had 10 assists and only one turnover—that is a perfect game for a point guard.”

Leitzen chose to concentrate on the importance of the road win, which marked the fourth victory in the Huskies’ last five games.

“I’d say it’s a big win—a real big win,” said Leitzen, whose team-high eight rebounds were just two less than the mountainous Clark’s total. “I think the first one’s the hardest one. Hopefully we can carry it.”