WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- Purdue's defense has put the Boilermakers in position to challenge for the Big Ten title.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had 18 points and 10 rebounds as Purdue beat Illinois 68-50 on Sunday for its third straight win.
Purdue has won its past three games by at least 15 points, and has held each of those opponents to 50 or fewer points and below 35 percent shooting.
Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said it's no surprise that the defensive surge came right after point guard FahKara Malone returned from a dislocated ring finger on her right hand. Malone had seven points, five assists and two steals while constantly harassing Illinois' guards.
"I think with FahKara being back out on the court -- she's a defensive player," Versyp said. "She's a communicator, constantly talking all the time. She's that coach on the floor."
Purdue (18-8, 11-4 Big Ten) moved to within half a game of the conference lead with three games to play. Versyp said she's not surprised that the Boilermakers remain in the race with four league losses.
"Most people thought somebody was just going to separate themselves," she said. "Our league has so much parity. Hopefully the NCAA will see that. It's very difficult every single game."
Versyp said her team is playing harder now that the end of the season is near.
"The preparation has always been there," Versyp said. "I think our players' focus has been a lot better.
The fans and players wore pink in honor of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's "Pink Zone" contest, designed to help collect funds for breast cancer research. Illinois wore pink jerseys and shorts, and Purdue wore their white home jerseys with pink trim. Both teams wore pink and white shoes.
Danielle Campbell added 11 points for the Boilermakers, whose offense did its part by shooting 48 percent from the field.
"Our players right now are really doing some great things: sharing the ball, playing some great defense," Versyp said. "Offensively, we did some things we haven't done all year. It's fun to see."
Lacey Simpson scored 16 points and Jenna Smith had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Illinois (8-18, 4-11), which had won four of its past five.
Purdue's post trio of Wisdom-Hylton, Campbell and Natasha Bogdanova shot a combined 16-for-24 from the field.
"They were fronting us, and we were able to get a few lob passes," Wisdom-Hylton said. "I think the guards were doing a good job passing the ball around."
The balance made it difficult for Illinois to contain Wisdom-Hylton, who made 9 of 13 shots.
"Wisdom-Hylton is such a great player," Smith said. "She has many moves. She's a good face-up player, and she can take you off the dribble."
Purdue made its first five shots to take a 10-5 lead. The Boilermakers shot 50 percent in the first half to take a 35-24 lead at the break.
Illinois cut its deficit to 39-31 before Purdue went on a 7-0 run. A fast-break layup by Lakisha Freeman on an assist from Brittany Rayburn made it 46-31. Purdue's biggest lead was 21 points in the second half.
"They didn't let up," Illinois coach Jolette Law said. "They stuck to their gameplan and kept fighting."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)