March 14, 1999
By PETE IACOBELLI AP Sports Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Clemson coach Jim Davis is quickly readjusting his team’s goals.
The Lady Tigers had been stuck in an NCAA time warp – always making the tournament but never staying around long. They had been dumped in the second round in five of their last six appearances.
On Sunday night, though, Natasha Anderson scored 18 points and No. 10 Clemson made sure it didn’t give up another chance to advance to the round of 16 with a 63-51 victory over Illinois.
“This was a goal that we had, but it’s not the only goal that we had,” said Davis. “I think there’s more to be heard from Clemson. We’re not going to roll over and play dead just because we’re going to Cincinnati.”
From 1989-91, Davis had Clemson advancing deep into the tournament each year. But while the 20-win seasons kept coming since then, postseason success was always a couple of baskets away.
And it almost happened again. Clemson (26-5) held a 45-32 lead with 12:13 to go, but Illinois charged back in the final 10 minutes, cutting it to 54-51 on Alicia Sheeler’s layup with 3:08 remaining.
This time, Nikki Blassingame made an inside basket for Clemson, Itoro Umoh knocked in two free throws and the Illini – who were 18-of-60 from the field – missed their next five shots.
Blassingame finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Clemson will face Southern Methodist or Georgia in the semifinals Saturday in Cincinnati. Those teams meet at Georgia on Monday night.
“We reached our goals and that was pretty cool,” said Umoh, one of four seniors who start for Clemson.
Susan Blauser had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Illinois, which was held to its lowest point total this season.
The Lady Tigers had cruised over first-round opponent Florida A&M 76-45 on Friday and looked ready to do the same to Illinois after Anderson and Amy Geren stuck in back-to-back jumpers midway through the second half.
But Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions, suddenly went off its game with rushed shots, sloppy passes and forgetful defense.
“I thought in the first half we kind of had our way,” Davis said. “Second half, (Illinois) matched up with us and put a little heat on us. We didn’t do a good job of countering.”
“It was frustrating,” Umoh said. “(But) I didn’t have time to be nervous.”
Umoh had 10 points, five in the final five minutes. Her free throws with 1:02 left gave Clemson a 59-51 lead and sealed the game.
Illinois freshman Allison Curtin scored give points in 19-9 run that changed a blowout into a tight game.
The Illini had come in averaging 81 points a game, but committed 20 turnovers and went 0-for-9 from 3-point range.
“I didn’t feel like we got enough looks tonight,” Curtin said. “I had a few looks but hurried them.”
Illinois went ahead 12-11 on Blauser’s back-to-back jumpers.
But Anderson and Amirah Leonard fueled a 19-6 run that had Clemson ahead 30-18. Anderson started the streak with an inside basket and closed it eight minutes later on a similar shot. Leonard scored four points during the run.
Anderson, who led the Lady Tigers with 24 points in the first round, finished with 10 points as Clemson went up 34-24.
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