Men’s wheelchair basketball team suffers disappointing loss on road

By Josh Birnbaum

The No. 2 Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team suffered a near-repeat of the Feb. 3 match against No. 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks on Saturday at Whitewater when the Illini lost, 67-31.

“We had been preparing for the last two weeks and we thought we had made some gains,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “We didn’t make those gains.”

For the Feb. 3 game at IMPE Gym, Illinois shot 26.6 percent and lost, 80-36. Saturday’s game, the Illini shot 25.5 percent from the field, with proficiency being almost equal in both halves.

Matt Buchi went 1-for-10 and Zach Beaulieu went 1-for-8 for the game.

“My shooting was actually much poorer than I ever imagined I would do in a basketball game,” Beaulieu said. “My shots were flat.”

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Illinois also had trouble handling the ball, allowing 23 points off 20 turnovers for the game, 13 of which came from players that Frogley called his top-three ball handlers.

“There’s going to be days when you’re not very good on the basketball court … but the one thing you want to make sure is that you make the other team work,” Frogley said. “I’m not sure we made Whitewater work and that’s the most disappointing of all.”

The players attribute this loss to a lack of communication on the court.

“Many things went wrong,” Beaulieu said. “We didn’t stick to the game plan like we should have. On defense we weren’t communicating well with each other.”

Although not a single player scored in the double digits, co-captain Steve Serio scored a team-high nine points. But Serio was not happy with the level of play the Illini showed against the Warhawks.

“I think that we kind of played a little scared being in their house, playing them again coming off that big loss,” Serio said. “We just have to play together a lot more. We have to play each game like it’s a championship game.”

Additionally, freshman Alex Grunstein was also a top scorer with eight points.

“Things kind of slowed down for me a bit,” Grunstein said. “I had more time to read the court, felt a little more confident in my reads.”

To prepare for the national tournament in March, Frogley plans to work on fundamental skills, player arrangement and mental toughness in practice.

“When somebody else, Whitewater in particular, is trying to do things differently than you want to do, you’ve got to have the will to stay focused and overcome those obstacles,” Frogley said. “What’s interesting is the group of individuals we’ve got, their lives have been about overcoming obstacles and the mindset, the skills are there but we’re not using them in the game right now.”

Despite the tough loss for the Illini, the players remain hopeful for the championship in March, where they will play the Edinboro Fighting Scots and the Warhawks.

“It’s a good time when you can practice four or five straight weeks just to play two teams,” Beaulieu said. “They should be beatable by that point.”