Illinois women’s basketball “got the reward” in win over Wisconsin

By Matt Gertsmeier, Staff writer

Matt Bollant was excited after the Illinois women’s basketball game Wednesday night. The head coach is seen in a video posted on the teams twitter account screaming “Keep getting better!” and “Passion!” before his team broke its huddle.

Bollant has won games in his career, but his team needed this one in particular – it was the Illini’s first win in over a month.

Illinois (9-17, 2-13) snapped its eight-game losing streak and achieved its second conference win Wednesday night when it defeated Wisconsin (7-18, 3-12) 76-56 in Madison, Wis. – Illinois’ second largest conference margin of victory in Bollant’s four-year career with the Illini.

Bollant said he thought the Illini got result they deserved, especially after numerous Big Ten coaches have said Illinois’ record does not reflect the type of team it is.

“A lot of coaches have commented ‘they don’t look like a team that’s had a losing streak or struggled the way they’ve carried themselves’,” Bollant said. “And they’ve really carried themselves the right way, had the right approach and carry themselves in a manner we’re really proud of. Tonight I felt they got the reward for that.”

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    After being tied 13-13 with Wisconsin after the first quarter, Illinois got on a roll from downtown. The Illini outscored the Badgers 25-7 in the second quarter and they went 4-4 from deep.

    Center Chatrice White went 3-3 for three and led all scorers with 20 points in the first half. White finished the game with 28 points and 12 rebounds for Illinois.

    Bollant said he thought White was the difference maker in the first half. She went 6-7 in the second quarter as Illinois finished the quarter shooting 10-11.

    “’(White) was great in that first half,” Bollant said. “Twenty points in that first half and gave us an 18-point lead.”

    Wisconsin came out in the second half much stronger than the first. Wisconsin’s Dakota Whyte scored 18 points and recorded three steals in the first half. She finished with a game-high 31 points.

    The Badgers also began to put more pressure on White in the second half. Illinois narrowly outscored Wisconsin in the second half, 38-36.

    With White unable to replicate her first half performance, Illinois began relying on other scoring options. Freshman forward Alex Wittinger, who has been recovering from a broken thumb, put up 10 points and snagged four rebounds in the second, and sophomore Kennedy Cattenhead had nine points off of 4-5 shooting in the second half.

    Along with White, Wittinger and Cattendhead, Kyley Simmons and Brooke Kissinger also finished with over nine points for the Illini.

    “That’s obviously important if we want to have great balance,” Bollant said about the other players stepping up. “It makes it tough to key on (White) when you’ve got other kids stepping up and making shots.”

    Illinois shot over 50 percent from the field in both halves. The Illini finished the game shooting about a 55 percent field-goal percentage and 50 percent three-point percentage.

    Bollant credits Illinois’ high shooting percentage to Wisconsin playing a zone defense compared to man-to-man.

    Wednesday’s win makes the Big Ten standings interesting. Illinois is currently last while Wisconsin and Indiana are tied and has a one-game lead over the Illini for second-to-last place. The Illini, Badgers and Wildcats each have three games left on their schedules. Illinois lost to Northwestern in its only meeting of the season with the Wildcats. But Wednesday’s win over Wisconsin was Illinois’ second and last game against the Badgers this season, giving it the tie-breaker over the Badgers.

    Bollant said there is still something to play for as long as Illinois can bring the passion it had Wednesday.

    “If we get one more win we tie Wisconsin and we now have the tiebreaker with them,” Bollant said. “So, (we’ll) see if we can go to Ohio State and see how well we can play there and see if we can play with great passion again.”

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