Wheelchair basketball splits weekend games

Wheelchair basketball splits weekend games

By Anthony Zilis

At the very least, the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team learned something about itself this weekend.

Although they are no longer undefeated in collegiate play, the Illini proved they could still compete with the best. They defeated Wisconsin Whitewater, 74-69, on Saturday at the Activities and Recreation Center, less than 24 hours after losing to the Warhawks, 86-76.

“We came out concentrated and focused,” Illinois coach Mike Frogley said. “We got, just, over the top last night … We came out today and we settled down and you could really see the difference.”

As Whitewater overplayed star point guard Steve Serio, the Illini found themselves looking for another scoring option.

They found it in Brian Bell.

The sophomore poured in 32 points, the only Illini to reach double figures, and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Illini.

“It’s huge because Steve can draw defenders, and then Brian can do his thing,” said Brandon Wagner, who had six points of his own. “Both of these guys can do a lot of things to open up everybody else.”

Serio finished with nine points and a game-high 12 assists.

But the main difference between the two games for the All-American was his team’s defensive play.

“I felt like we were trying to defend everybody one-on-one yesterday,” Serio said. “Today we really wanted to make an effort to get all five guys back. Our whole game is based on team defense.”

One major factor in Saturday’s game was the Illini’s ability to hold Joe Chambers, who scored 31 on Friday, to just 20 points.

“He’s always going to be a tough matchup,” Wagner said about Chambers. “We wanted to tire him out a little bit more today make him push up and down the floor more, and try to get our size on his size.”

Chambers, decisively bigger than any Illinois player, was able to shoot the ball over Illini players seemingly at will.

The key, Serio said, was to play team defense on the center, allowing him less of a chance at good post position.

“We held him to 20, and we’re thinking we’re proud of that so he’s a heck of a ball player,” Frogley said.

Even though they lost their undefeated collegiate record over the weekend, the Illini left the Activities and Recreation Center Saturday with their heads held high.

“I would consider our weekend very successful,” Bell said. “We took our mistakes we made yesterday, and we pretty much corrected them.”

The women’s wheelchair basketball team also split a pair of games on Friday and Saturday.

Unlike the men’s team, the women’s team won its first game, 49-31, and lost the second game Saturday, 51-43.

The Illini were paced by Shawna Culp, Bridie Kean and Tatyana McFadden, who together scored 45 on Friday and 37 in the loss on Saturday, totaling 89 percent of their team’s scoring.

They were outperformed on Saturday by Whitewater’s Becca Murray, who scored 33 of her team’s points, and every point in the second half until a free throw by Beth Devault with 58.2 seconds remaining.

Both teams head to the College Division Crossover in Columbia, Mo., next weekend before heading to Whitewater for a rematch with the Warhawks.