Led by White, Illinois women’s basketball has solid season

By Joey Figueroa

Heading into the 2014-2015 season, the Illinois women’s basketball team had nowhere to go but up.

Led by new veteran transfers and a five-star recruit, the Illini may have even exceeded expectations and stayed on the right track in head coach Matt Bollant’s rebuilding processmp.

Illinois finished the season with an overall record of 15-16 and were 6-12 in the Big Ten — a major turnaround from its 2-14 conference performance the year beforemp.

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It was a season that must have Bollant feeling optimistic, especially because of the way freshman center Chatrice White performed. The prized 6-foot-3 recruit lived up to her preseason hype with per-game averages of 14.5 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. She shot over 44 percent from the field and even led all players with at least 60 attempts with a 36-percent success rate from 3-point rangemp.

The Nebraska native earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors on three separate occasions and finished the season with an all-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Bollant raved about his top recruit’s skills all season long.

“She’s everything that we hoped she would be,” Bollant said early in the season. “One thing about talented players: They only tend to get better.”

White had her fingerprints all over some of Illinois’ most memorable moments of the season. The freshman phenom was Illinois’ leading scorer with 23 points in its upset win over No. 9 Kentucky early in the seasonmp. In her first return to her home state of Nebraska in late January, White drilled four 3-pointers during another 23-point performance in a narrow 59-57 loss to the Huskersmp. And as a sign of things to come for the program, White scored a career-high 30 points to lead Illinois to a win over Michigan in the final game of the regular season, clinching a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.

White wasn’t the only new addition that contributed last season, though. Guards Kyley Simmons and Brittany Cartermp started every game and added veteran leadership after transferring to Illinois the year prior, and freshman Amarah Coleman solidified herself as the team’s first option off the bench.

The new group meshed well together until senior scoring leader Ivory Crawford went down with a torn meniscus in early January, which led to a seven-game losing streak that derailed a promising season. Illinois stumbled into the Big Ten tournament having lost 11 of its final 15 games and were eliminated in the opening round by Nebraskamp.

Crawford fought valiantly in her final game as an Illini and leaves as the program’s 13th leading scorer all-time. She also left her mark as an example for the younger players on the squad.

“With Ivory, I just learned how she played the game and it made me see the game differently and look for different opportunities,” White said. “I had a great group of seniors that I really looked up to this year and I’m really going to miss them.”

With Crawford and Carter graduating, and forward Jacqui Grant’s decision to transfer to DePaul, Illinois will be without three of its five starters next season.

Bollant locked down another solid recruiting class, though, and will work with a roster fully comprised of his own recruits next season. And with a talent like White, Illinois already has a player to build a program aroundmp.

[email protected] @joeyfigueroa3