Men’s wheelchair basketball team suffers first loss

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Illinois Josh George tries to grab the ball from RIC Hornets Jaime Baltazar during the mens wheelchair basketball game on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006 at IMPE Gym in Champaign. Illinois won, 70-55.

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Illinois’ Josh George tries to grab the ball from RIC Hornet’s Jaime Baltazar during the men’s wheelchair basketball game on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006 at IMPE Gym in Champaign. Illinois won, 70-55.

By Brian Atlas

The Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team suffered its first defeat this weekend, losing 70-64 to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, last year’s national runner-up.

The Illini committed 14 turnovers to the Warhawks’ nine.

“We needed to only commit six (or) seven turnovers,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “(Whitewater) really capitalized on our mistakes. Generally speaking, a turnover is a four-point swing when playing a team of that caliber.”

However, the Illini won their other two games over the weekend, both against Southwest Minnesota State University, with scores of 62-47 and 78-44, on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 respectively.

“The scores say it all for how much we improved,” Frogley said.

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Aside from those two commanding victories, the story of the weekend was against Whitewater, but Frogley was not upset that the team lost.

“While Whitewater is obviously No. 1 and played at home and had a crowd, our guys did a great job, playing good mental basketball,” Frogley said. “Our squad is young, (Whitewater) has a bunch of veterans and we did not get distracted by their home crowd.”

Starting sophomore Steve Serio led the team in scoring in all three games, averaging 20 points per game. He scored 14 against the Warhawks.

But Serio was not satisfied with his individual play.

“Those stats can be misleading,” Serio said. “I had unnecessary turnovers. I played like a freshman instead of like a (veteran).”

Frogley responded to this statement by saying that Serio did not force plays and that he played maturely.

Serio tied for the most turnovers against Whitewater, committing four.

Concentrating more on the team, though, Serio believes that the game played against Whitewater showcases that the Illini men are for real this year.

“This was a major stepping stone for us,” Serio said. “We definitely took our game to the next level. We played them very closely, (going) back-and-forth the entire game.”

Frogley said not having senior Josh George for the weekend hurt the team’s chances of winning and that the game would have even been closer if he had played.

“Josh George is obviously going to help us because he knows how to get post players involved,” Frogley said. “He’ll really help us with our decision making at the end of the ball game.”

Frogley also said starting center Lars Spenger did a great job on the Warhawk’s starting center Joe Chambers, who is considered the best wheelchair center in the country, as he starts at that position for the U.S. Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team.

“(Chambers) was forced to take more outside shots (rather) than get to the rim,” Frogley said.

Spenger is excited about the the team’s upside.

“I am so proud of the way we played this weekend,” Spenger said. “We definitely have more to improve than they do, and when we get to that level in March, instead of losing by 6 (against Whitewater), we should win by 6 or 8.”

Also for the weekend, the women’s team made the trip up to Wisconsin, and the women Illini played against the men’s teams of Whitewater and also Edinboro University, losing both games.

Co-captain Carlee Hoffman was still pleased with the performance of the squad and said the games were beneficial.

“It gave our post players some competition,” Hoffman said. “They will play tougher against other teams in the future.”