Illinois women’s basketball rolling with changes

By Matt Gertsmeier, Staff writer

Editor’s note: This story’s publication deadline was before the Illini played Central Michigan on Dec. 12.

The Illinois women’s basketball team has had to deal with change.

A lot of change.

Seven former players sued the University of Illinois, former athletic director Mike Thomas, head coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss. The chaotic summer resulted in some players transferring, Divilbiss resigning, Mike Thomas getting fired – he also was involved with issues surrounding the football and soccer team – and Bollant was under plenty of criticism.

But change can also be a good thing.

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    With 11 players on the roster this season because of the summer transfers, Illinois has looked to new players to step up. Two of the six leading scorers from last year are not on this year’s roster.

    As a result, sophomore Chatrice White and senior Kyley Simmons have increased their production. White is averaging about three more points than she did last year; Simmons is averaging about four more points.

    Senior Sarah Hartwell has had a major influence. Last year, Hartwell played a total of 43 minutes in 14 games and scored 10 points. This year, Hartwell has started all seven games, averaging just under 30 minutes and 7.9 points per game.

    “(There have been) a lot of ups and downs, but I think overall I’ve grown every year,” Hartwell said. “This year I am enjoying the process more and not worrying about the end result or worrying about every little detail. For me, I’m enjoying my last year to the fullest and not thinking about the future or thinking about the past.”

    Illinois’ team veterans have not been the only players who’ve made an impact.

    The Illini have three freshmen are on their roster. Jaelyne Kirkpatrick has averaged 12.6 minutes per game in her role as backup guard. Alex Wittinger is averaging 7.8 points and six rebounds per game. Guard Cierra Rice has started all six games and has been named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week twice.

    Bollant said the freshmen class has been performing as he anticipated.

    “It’s great for (Cierra) to be named Freshman of the Week,” Bollant said. “Her body control when she drives it – it won’t look like much there and then all of a sudden she is finishing a layup where it didn’t look like there was a whole lot there. Certainly, her efficiency has been good, but I think all three freshmen have been kind of what we hoped for.”

    And there are more changes to come.

    Seniors Eriel Davis and Simone Law have been recovering from injury. Both players’ timetables for return is unknown, but there is a possibility they could come back around Big Ten conference play.

    Their returns to the team could be help Illinois improve upon its conference record from a season ago when it finished 6-12 in conference play, and 10th in the Big Ten.

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