Illini don’t let mix-up, bad start stop them

 

 

By Anthony Zilis

Coming out of the half in Sunday’s game against Eastern Illinois, the Illinois women’s basketball team was ready to make up a 28-16 deficit against a team it had defeated by 30 points a season ago.

But Panthers head coach Brady Sallee was about to embarrass the Illini a little more.

As the half opened up, the Panthers had the ball at midcourt. But instead of lining up as they normally would, they purposely lined up with three players on their defensive side and one on their offensive side of the court. Eastern Illinois point guard Megan Edwards stood in what the Illini thought was the Panthers’ backcourt.

When she caught the inbound pass, Edwards turned around and dribbled to the basket for an easy, unchallenged layup.

“I knew that probably their halftime speech was pretty intense, and they were probably ready to come out and get all jazzed up, and maybe their heads were into what they were going to have to do to us defensively, and I thought the time was right,” Sallee said.

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Illini coach Jolette Law was incited. She said the referees pointed the wrong way when the Panthers inbounded.

“I almost lost it,” she said. “I think they were celebrating, laughing, and Lacey (Simpson) looked over (and said), ‘We got it, we got it.'”

Simpson, a junior, didn’t think the play had the intended effect.

“We felt embarrassed, and that was like a light bulb switch hit it right there. After that, we took off from there.”

As a former Harlem Globetrotter, one would think Law had seen every trick play in the book.

“Never, ever, ever in my years of playing this game or coaching this game have I ever seen that happen,” she said.

No subs

After an abysmal first half Sunday, Law’s squad came out of the break looking like a different team.

In fact, the group was playing so well Law didn’t use a substitute the entire second half.

“It’s just, when you know when you have a unit that is playing together, they were doing all the little things,” Law said.

“They came out with fire, they played defense, they were communicating, they were doing the things I’d been asking them to do for some time.”

The lineup of Simpson, Jenna Smith, Chelsea Gordon, Fabiola Josil and Lydia McCully showed no signs of fatigue for the entire 20-minute half.

“Every time I called a time out they were like, ‘We’re not tired, we’re fine,'” Law said.

“That’s the team that represented us, and that’s the team that helped us get us back in the game and ultimately led us to win.”

Halftime woes

For the second home game in a row, Illinois had to edge out a team it was expected to defeat handily.

In both last week’s exhibition contest against Division II Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Sunday’s regular season opener versus Eastern Illinois, the Orange and Blue were down at the half.

But Sallee didn’t think of his team, who was picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference, as the underdog.

“We expected to win this game,” he said.

“We’re expected to win championships, we’ve turned that corner. So no matter who we were playing or how we were playing, we’re disappointed that we lost.”