Women’s wheelchair team struggles with sparse bench

By Josh Birnbaum

Despite the fact that five of its players got sick this weekend, the No. 1 Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team still won two of its four games during the Denver Invitational Tournament, defeating the Phoenix Mercury 56-34 and the Denver women 47-29.

“It was not a great weekend for our team’s health,” senior Amanda McGrory said. “Carlee Hoffman got sick on Friday and the rest of us just started dropping like flies after that.”

Hoffman, who is a senior team captain, was unable to play in any of the games, leaving a hole in the Illini offense.

“Our top scorer couldn’t play,” Edina Mueller said. “That can always happen. People get sick; we have to deal with that.”

Mueller stepped up her role in the games, scoring 10 points against the Denver women and contributing seven points and six rebounds to the Phoenix game. But Mueller looks at those two wins – against less experienced teams – as a way to practice for the more challenging matchups.

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“Playing teams that are not as good as us gives us an opportunity to go back to the basics,” Mueller said.

The Illini forced 16 turnovers against Denver and held it to 17.4 percent shooting in the second half. They did almost the same to Phoenix, forcing 12 turnovers and keeping it to 16 percent shooting in the first half.

The team did not fare as well in its more challenging games, however, losing to the Denver men 61-27 and to their rival, the No. 2 University of Alabama women, 52-36.

In their loss against the Denver men, the women had trouble hitting their shots, shooting only 23.2 percent for the game. Against Alabama, they made only two of their 12 free throws.

“We didn’t play well at all,” head coach Patty Cisneros said of the losses. “Alabama controlled the tempo of the game from beginning to end. They got ahead at the start and we just couldn’t catch up.”

Nevertheless, Cisneros was pleased with both McGrory’s and Mueller’s performances.

“It’s good to have those two because Amanda brings a strong defensive game and Edina brings a strong offensive game,” Cisneros said.

The next tournament for the women will be held this Friday and Saturday at Intramural Physical Education building, where the women will once again challenge teams from the men’s division.

The games will be particularly difficult, however, because four of the women’s five starters will be in playing at the Osaka Cup in Japan with their national teams.

“We’re not going to win any of these games (at IMPE) because we haven’t beaten any of these teams yet and we’re without four of our five starters,” Cisneros said. “Knowing that, and knowing that in two weeks is women’s Nationals, we’re just going to focus on refining the basic skills.”

The Illini still feel confident going into these next two weeks, though.

“I feel that we are definitely the strongest team in the league and these challenges are helping us prove that,” McGrory said.