Illini come up short in 63-39 loss to Virginia

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Bret Greenberg

Illinois’ 6-0 run at the beginning of the second half was the highlight of Thursday night’s 63-39 loss to No. 20 Virginia at the Assembly Hall. After shooting 29 percent from the field and losing the rebounding battle 43-26, a loss was inevitable.

With a long history between head coaches Jolette Law of Illinois and Debbie Ryan of Virginia, it was tough for Ryan to watch parts of the game.

“Jolette is a lifelong friend of mine and it’s tough to play a game like this against her,” Ryan said. “I know she’s building a good program here and has a solid recruiting class, but tonight was difficult for her.”

Cavaliers All-American Monica Wright was too much for the Illini, leading all scorers with 23 points. She added a season-high nine steals on the defensive end, frustrating the Illini guards. But she gave the credit to her team as a whole.


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Virginia clobbers Illinois

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“Coach stresses us being in the passing lanes and being really aggressive on defense,” Wright said. “So being a defensive team is something we really take pride in and we have to do it every game. I feel like it fuels our offense.”

Illinois didn’t have an answer for this high-octane offense, which scored almost a third of its points on the fast break.

Offensively, Illinois struggled to find junior Jenna Smith down low early, leading to multiple forced jump shots and three first half shot-clock violations.

Junior Lacey Simpson had a rough start as well, committing her second foul four minutes into the game, confining her to the bench for the remainder of the first half.

At the end of the first half, Virginia’s Chelsea Shine had a buzzer beating put-back giving the Cavaliers a 40-14 lead. Law stood in front of the bench staring out at the court expressionless until her squad entered the tunnel.

“This is not the team I’ve seen the last four games in Cancun,” Law said. “Be competitive and have some sense of pride and dignity. I was stunned. I just think that right now, there’re no more excuses.”

The second half brought a glimmer of hope, as the Illini came out inspired, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers. Freshman Lana Rukavina put in a solid effort, finishing with six points and seven rebounds. Law sees more potential minutes for the 6-foot-3 forward.

“Lana came ready to play from tip,” Law said.

The coach added, “She addressed the little things like communication and rebounding. She had the fire and energy. I’ll be playing her a lot more from now on.”

Even with individual bright spots, Smith said the team as a whole has a long way to go before they can start clicking as a unit.

Starting with practice, Smith said the Illini need to change their ways to get out of their five-game losing streak.

“We’re not playing team ball,” Smith said. “We need to keep our heads up but we need to be accountable. There’s something wrong with not working your hardest in practice and games.”