Men’s wheelchair basketball focuses on mental aspect for No. 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater

When preparing for the No. 1 team in the nation, one would think a team should practice hard all week, fixing specific aspects of its game and learning the top team’s strengths.

It may have been a little different for the No. 2 Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team this week in its preparation for No. 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“We’ve had better weeks of practice, it’s the end of a really tough stretch for our athletes,” head coach Mike Frogley said.

“We’ve played 12 games in three weeks, so they’re pretty tired right now, and it showed up in practice.”

Practicing at an up-tempo speed all season, the Illini have hit a mental barrier that will test them this weekend on the road against the defending national-champion Warhawks on Friday night.

Frogley said the goal is to press Whitewater hard, so it is not able to get a deep pass to a big player down the court for an easy layup.

The Illini will also look to initially deny the pass and to force it to be as long as possible, so the Illinois defense can contest it.

Another goal is to keep Whitewater on the defensive end longer, which has not always been the strategy for a quick-transition Illinois team.

“We want to reduce the number of possessions. We don’t want it to be a game where there’s 58 to 70 possessions per team,” Frogley said.

“If we could make it a 45- to 48-possession ball game, then those possessions they get from the early post aren’t as significant.”

Although it’s important to be prepared and work on technical aspects, captain Steve Serio said the mental part of the game will be the most important for the Illini.

“We just need to stay mentally tough the whole weekend,” Serio said.

“I am extremely confident that we’re going to go up there and fight for it.”

One way Illinois can overcome Whitewater’s mental toughness is to communicate as much as possible and help each other get through each game.

“We have to bring each other up for the big occasion,” freshman Dylan Alcott said.

“It’s tough waking up early every morning, but if you look to the person next to you, they are going through the same thing. So you just be as positive as you can.”

Serio also said a way to conquer the mental part of the game is to stay focused at practice and concentrate on what the team needs to improve.

The Illini will also play Saturday against DivisionII Edinboro University and Southwest Minnesota State University. These games are not ones to overlook.

“Anytime you play a college team, it’s tough. You know it’s going to be a 40-minute game and anyone has a chance to win,” Serio said.

Whatever happens, the Illini want every team to bring everything they have so they can improve mentally and physically.

“I know we’re tired going in, the guys know we’re tired, but we need to embrace everything an opponent brings so we can grow and progress as a team,” Frogley said.