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State of mind: NIU women pick up fifth win against DI foe from Illinois

NIU forward Kelly Smith (25) plays the ball in the outside post against Loyola-Chicago forward Brandi Segars (11) at The NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb December 6.
NIU forward Kelly Smith (25) plays the ball in the outside post against Loyola-Chicago forward Brandi Segars (11) at The NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb December 6.

DeKALB – Two players reaching the 1,000-point mark and a nine-game winning streak against in-state schools – the Northern Illinois women's basketball team picked up it second win in a row in a big way Wednesday, 80-71, against Loyola.

The win was the ninth in the row against NCAA Division I programs from Illinois, and featured both senior Kelly Smith and junior Courtney Woods eclipsing the 1,000-point mark for their careers.

"It's something special," Woods said. "I think coming into the game we didn't think we were going to get it in the same game. But Kelly and I are great friends and it's such a nice thing. To get 1,000 points and get it in the same game its, really cool."

Woods reached the 1,000-point mark on a layup with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, and Smith did it on a layup 11 seconds into the third quarter. Woods finished with 22 and Smith with 18 to lead the Huskies (6-2) over the Ramblers (1-7).

Smith said there was a friendly competition to see who would get the milestone first. And although Woods reached the mark 47 seconds of game time quicker than Smith, Smith also noted she had a one-year head start.

"We kind of realized that we were kind of close, kind of around the same number," Smith said. "It was like, 'Oh, who's going to get it first.' But obviously, she beat me by a season. But to have that little 'Who's going to get it?' has been really fun."

NIU hasn't lost an in-state game since Western Illinois last year – that Leatherneck team made the NCAA tournament. They're 5-0 in state this year, and coach Lisa Carlsen 13-2 against Illinois programs with the Huskies

Sophomore Myia Starks, a graduate of Neuqua Valley, said notching wins against Illinois teams is personal. Against Loyola alone, she played with or against two of their players – Rockford Lutheran grad and Loyola freshman Kailyn Strawbridge, who started and finished with five points and five assists, and Montini grad and sophomore Tiara Wallace, who played 10 minutes.

"I've either played against or know most of the girls," Starks said. "Kailyn Strawbridge, for a moment she was on my AAU team, so we played with each other for a little bit. I also played against Tiara Wallace at Montini. So I know of these girls, and it feels good to beat them."

Woods said she can't say the team say it's the best in the state without having played Illinois or Northwestern, something Smith said she wishes she had the chance to do.

"I've actually never played U of I since I've been here, and I'd like to see us get the chance for that matchup," Smith said. "But in terms of everyone else, we've played almost everyone else – not Northwestern – but to be able to say that is a point of pride."

The Huskies struggled early, committing five first-quarter turnovers. But they didn't commit any in the second and just five total in the second half, and the hot shooting of the Ramblers cooled off as they hit 2 of their last 10 shots in the first half after shooting over 50 percent for the first 12 minutes.

After trailing by as much as four early and not grabbing the lead until the final minute of the first quarter, the Huskies spent most the rest of the game in the lead except for two brief times in the second quarter.

By the numbers: Starks added 16 and Mikayla Voigt had 15 for the Huskies. Abby O'Connor led the Ramblers with 20. Ally May had a game-high 10 rebounds to help power the Huskies to a 43-30 edge on the boards. Every NIU starter played at least 32 minutes, including Woods and Smith who each picked up four fouls. The teams shot a combined 84 percent from the line.

Beyond the stats: NIU scored the last eight points of the second quarter to take command of the game. Loyola briefly got the lead down to six, but Starks hit a pair of free throws to kick off a 6-0 run late in the game.

They said it: "That's such huge milestone as a collegiate player, to get to 1,000 is something you need to be very proud of," NIU coach Lisa Carlsen said. "You look at Courtney doing it as a junior, its a huge accomplishment. Those guys have been a a staple of what we've tried to do in the last two and a half years. They've really embraced the challenge, they've really grown, their games have grown. ... It's a great accomplishment for them but it's a tribute to what we've try to do as a team."

Up next: The Huskies will play their final in-state opponent of the season with a trip to SIU-Edwardsville (3-3) on Dec. 17. The Ramblers host Green Bay at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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