Illini wheelchair basketball teams prep for final home tournament of the season


Illinois’ head coach Matt Buchi talks with his players during a time-out at the wheelchair basketball game vs. Missouri at the ARC on Feb. 13. 

By Thomas Polcyn

Tweet- @Illinoiswcbball set to wrap up home tournament schedule before nationals. #Illini

As nationals approaches, the Illinois wheelchair basketball teams are ready to wrap up their home tournament schedule.

This weekend, the Illini will host their final tournament of the season at home before heading off to Alabama and then finally Pennsylvania to compete for the national championship.

“It’s going to be a pretty big tournament,” men’s head coach Matt Buchi said. “We’ll have pretty much all of the teams here except for Texas, so there’s going to be good competition and some fun games.”

To be more specific, the men’s bracket includes Alabama, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Missouri, Southwest Minnesota State, Edinboro, and Arizona State. Each team will play in five games.

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The Illini have played games against each team above besides Edinboro, who will be hosting the national tournament this year.

Buchi said that he expects tough competition all week, but if his team clicks defensively he expects to come out of the tournament with some wins.

The team has been focusing heavily on bolstering its defense before the tournament, and Buchi said he was happy with the results at practice this week.

“We are really looking good with our offense,” Buchi said. “Since we’ve been so good in that area it really allows us to work extra hard on the defensive side. If we carry over what we worked on in practice this week to the games I think we can beat anybody. Defense will make the difference.”

On the offensive side, Buchi is looking for senior Tim Nagle and junior Patrick Tomic to step up and have big weekends. He said that in practice they have been getting really good looks and he thinks it will carry over into the games.

Buchi sees the weekend as a barometer for how his team might fare in the postseason.

“It’s going to be a really tough tournament,” Buchi said. “This is going to really show us where the bar is set now that we’re so close to nationals. It’s time for us to put up or shut up.”

For the Illinois women, the weekend will be all about building off of their previous success this season.

The bracket for them will include Alabama and Wisconsin-Whitewater, plus a game against the Arizona State co-ed team. They will get to play in four games; two against Alabama, and one against Whitewater and Arizona State.

Overall, women’s head coach Stephanie Wheeler is happy with where her team is and didn’t have any huge changes to make at practice this week.

“This week was all about just doing the smaller things in our game right,” Wheeler said. “We’ve been focusing on things like positioning, communication, pass fakes, all that minor stuff. It’s those small details that allow us to control the game.”

Confidence aside, the Illini will face a challenge this weekend. Alabama is hoping to defend its title as national champion, while Whitewater has played Illinois tough all year.

Wheeler said that her gameplan changes game to game, but her big focus for this weekend is communication. She said that is the main factor in how her team plays and when they communicate well, they play well. 

“If we control that part of the game, the physical part comes easy.”

Offensively, Wheeler is looking to some familiar faces to have big weekends.

“I think Kendra (Zeman) and Megan (Blunk) will really play well this weekend,” Wheeler said. They have both been playing great basketball lately and I think it will carry over. When they have that confidence going there’s no reason they can’t put up great numbers every game.”

This tournament will hold a lot of significance to the seniors, who will be honored before the second game on Saturday.

Former Illini wheelchair basketball player Kevin Orr, a 1990 graduate of Illinois, is also being honored before the game. Orr was recently selected to be inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame for his role on four straight national championship teams in his time at Illinois.

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