Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team adds to gold collection


Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Stephanie Wheeler shouts instructions to her team during the game against Alabama at the Activities and Recreation Center on Feb. 12. Wheeler’s team just won gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

By Ryan Wilson, Staff writer

Stephanie Wheeler is usually stoic-faced on and off the basketball court. She knows how to maintain her composure and is well-spoken in front of the media.

But on Saturday, all of those characteristics went out the window and she broke loose. In one instance, she tilted her head back, looked to the ceiling, clenched her fists and screamed at the top of her lungs.

Wheeler had twice won the Paralympic women’s wheelchair basketball gold medal as a para-athlete of Team USA, but finished fourth in her first attempt at coaching in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

This time around was different.

The United States women’s wheelchair basketball team defeated defending champion, Germany, 62-45 to win the gold medal in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. It is the U.S.’s third gold in the last four Paralympics.

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Three-time Paralympian Rebecca Murray was arguably the game’s MVP with 33 points for the U.S., lighting up the left side of the court and hitting seven mid-range jumpers near the left elbow. Murray, a member of the NWBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, also added eight rebounds and six assists.

The United States’ Rose Hollerman, the one big on the team, had 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.

The 5-foot-8 Hollerman, who at 16-years-old was a member of the 2012 fourth-place team, led the U.S. like a point guard and was often the first player down the court in fast breaks.

Former Illini Gail Gaeng had 11 points and played 35-straight minutes as a starter. Megan Blunk, Gaeng’s Illinois teammate, did not play.

The players were hugging each other left and right, with Hollerman once falling in the hands of a teammate while reaching for a hug.

The U.S. and Germany were separated by only two points throughout the entirety of the first quarter with the Americans leading, 14-12. Murray had only one of her seven mid-range jumpers, but she and her team warmed up in the second.

The U.S. went on a 7-0 run in the first two minutes and 53 seconds of the quarter before long-time Germany head coach Holger Glinicki called a timeout to end the momentum.

After the timeout, the game’s pace picked up, and the U.S. continued its fast-break offense that carried the team to a 6-0 record in pool play.

Germany scored its first points in the second quarter with 1:28 left and scored three more before the half to lose the quarter 15-5.

The second half saw streaky offense for both teams, as Germany and the U.S. went on their own scoring runs. The U.S. once expanded its lead to 20, but Germany was able to cut it down to 11 with a few minutes remaining.

That was the closest the Germany got to hearing its national anthem for the second-straight Paralympics.

This time around, the members of the International Paralympic Committee walked toward Wheeler and her Team USA teammates with plates full of gold medals.

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