Men’s wheelchair basketball team wins game against Wisconsin-Whitewater

 

 

By Josh Birnbaum

In defeating rival University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 55-46 this past weekend during a tournament at the Intramural Physical Education Building, the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team earned the No. 1 seed heading into its national tournament this March.

The win was especially meaningful for the men in wake of their previous performances against the Warhawks.

“We lost to Whitewater at our second tournament this year by 16 points, and next time we lost by eight,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “Last time we beat them by four, and this time we beat them by nine … we just want to continue to get better.”

The Illini came out strong in the Whitewater game, holding the Warhawks scoreless for the first nine and a half minutes.

“I’ve never felt so confident against Whitewater,” team captain Steve Serio said to his teammates at halftime.

Serio led the offense, contributing 34 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

“Steve got really hot in the game, started hitting a lot of big shots,” senior Matt Buchi said. “We were able to keep feeding him the ball and have him just kind of take over the game … it knocks a lot of wind out of teams.”

The first two games of the tournament were significantly easier for Illinois. They handily defeated Edinboro University and Southwest Minnesota State University, 78-35 and 80-30, respectively. The men considered the games as a warm-up for their match against Whitewater.

“We were able to play the same game we played against Whitewater for each one of (the earlier games),” Buchi said. “We improved a little bit more, got a harder defense, got a little bit more aggressive.”

Serio continued his productive play, scoring 30 points against Edinboro. Illinois also forced 25 turnovers against SMSU.

Frogley played every player in every game of the tournament.

“We got a chance to play really deep,” Frogley said. “We played a lot of guys a lot of different minutes in a lot of different spots, but we were still able to keep our game intact.”

The players attributed some of their homecourt success to the large, supportive crowd at IMPE.

“The crowd is a big factor in games,” senior Drew Dokos said. “They brought a lot of energy and kept it going.”

In the final game of the weekend, the men faced off against the Illini women in an exhibition match in hopes of helping the women tune up for their national tournament in two weeks.

“We try to do our best to help them,” Dokos said. “We’re separate teams, but we’re the same team, so we’re all working toward the same goals. We want to win national championships, bring them to Illinois.”

Earning the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2001 places the men right in line with the women, who hold the No. 1 seed in their division, as well. Owning both top spots is a first for Illinois wheelchair basketball.

The men have three weeks off before their national tournament, but for now, they will be helping the women prepare for their national tournament, which will be held in Champaign at Huff Hall between Feb. 27 and March 1.

“There’s going to be a big focus from our guys to work with our ladies and get them tournament-ready,” Frogley said. “Once that’s done, we’ll flip-flop it, and our ladies will be there to support our guys.”