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Bollant relying on Wittinger to be leader, hoping she’ll become a star

Illinois%27+Alex+Wittinger+shoots+a+jumper+over+Indiana%27s+Amanda+Cahill+during+the+game+against+Indiana+at+the+State+Farm+Center+on+February+10.+The+Illini+lost+70-68.
Illinois' Alex Wittinger shoots a jumper over Indiana's Amanda Cahill during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Illinois' Alex Wittinger shoots a jumper over Indiana's Amanda Cahill during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Alex Wittinger shoots a jumper over Indiana's Amanda Cahill during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Alex Wittinger has done the work: She has become a leader and adopted a larger role on the Illinois women’s basketball team. And now she is poised to have a breakout season for the Illini.

At least that’s how head coach Matt Bollant sees it.

“(Wittinger) won our most improved player award last season, and she’s improved a ton from March until now,” Bollant said. “And I think (she) will be one of the better players in the Big Ten.”

While she is only a sophomore, Wittinger’s career numbers show that she is on the right path to get there.

As a freshman, Wittinger averaged 10 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, good enough to earn her a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. The forward from Minnesota was also second in the conference in offensive rebounds.

However, Wittinger’s numbers aren’t why Bollant believes in her so much.

“There’s not a harder worker around, in the Big Ten or maybe even the country,” Bollant said. “When she came in she was a good athlete, but really didn’t shoot very well, didn’t handle the ball very well, didn’t pass very well. And now because of the level of intensity she goes at she’s gotten better in all of those areas.”

As high of a bar as Bollant is setting for Wittinger’s play, he is hoping that she can also improve as a leader.

Up until this point, Wittinger has lead by example through her play. She has shot over 50 percent from the field, hitting the boards on both sides of the ball, and working hard in practice.

Now, as Bollant tries to integrate six freshman into the team, he is looking to Wittinger to continue leading by example, but also become more of a vocal leader.

“I’ve just tried to not think about what I’m doing so much, and focus on my teammates,” Wittinger said. “I’m focused on what they’re doing, which helps me be more vocal. (I’ve also) been focused on talking more in practice, because if you don’t talk in practice it won’t translate to the game.”

The team’s total roster is 11, with freshmen accounting for 55 percent of the team.

With such a young squad, Bollant’s advice to freshman is simple.

“If you want to be great, follow Alex. Do what Alex Wittinger does,” Bollant said. “Because of the way (Alex) works, the freshmen are coming in and they’re learning the trade.”

jvdiaz2@dailyillini.com

@Jacob_Diaz31

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