Illinois women’s basketball looks to build off positives of Wednesday’s loss


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Petra Holešínská (13) dribbles around her defender during the game against Wake Forest at State Farm Center on Wednesday. The Illini lost 79-70.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Approaching Friday night’s matchup against Fort Wayne, Illinois’ Alex Wittinger is showing why her head coach said that she would be one of the premier players in the Big Ten this season.

The lanky sophomore forward recorded her fifth consecutive double-double Wednesday night against Wake Forest. Wittinger is one of only five returning players for the Illini this season, and head coach Matt Bollant knew he had something special in her.

“If you want to be great, follow Alex,” Bollant said before the season started. “Do what Alex Wittinger does.”

Wittinger is averaging a double-double through six games, with 15 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. She has also used her length to record 17 blocks in 6 games — an entire block better than the 1.8 blocks per game she managed last season which was the fifth highest mark in the Big Ten.

Wittinger’s efforts on the glass helped the Illini out-rebound Wake Forest 43-31, even though Wake Forest was a taller team. But it took more than just Wittinger to negate that height advantage, and Wednesday night that help came from an unlikely source.

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Listed at 5-foot-6, freshman point guard Brandi Beasley is the shortest player on the Illini. Despite often being matched up with a much taller opponent, Beasley grabbed 11 boards – nine of them on defense – Wednesday night en route to her first career double-double.

“If you do your part on the defensive end, it translates into buckets,” Beasley said. “I take a lot of pride in (my) defense.”

Bollant certainly noticed and appreciated the efforts of both Beasley and Wittinger.

“We had 20 offensive rebounds against a big, physical team,” Bollant said. “Our effort was definitely there, and for Brandi and Alex to have double-doubles is great.”

Bollant also singled out the performance of junior Kennedy Cattenhead after the Wake Forest game. Cierra Rice’s injury opened up a bigger role for Cattenhead, and the guard made the most of that opportunity to the tune of a season-high 16 points and including eight in the fourth quarter alone.

“I thought Kennedy played her most complete game of the year,” Bollant said. “She did a lot of really good things for us.”

With Rice sidelined for the immediate future, Bollant will need Cattenhead to continue to step up her game.

On the other hand, Bollant will need to find a way to get the best out of Petra Holesinska on a more consistent basis.

The freshman shooting guard got off to a good start against Wake Forest, with seven points in the first quarter, but lost her touch in the second half, only making one of her six shots. Holesinska has been a bit of an enigma for the Illini so far.

She showed what she was capable of against Memphis, where her quick first step and her three-point shot led her to put up 18 points. But just two games later against Mercer, Holesinska couldn’t buy a point, and went 0-7, including going 0-4 from deep.

“Petra took some really quick shots (in the second half),” Bollant said “We just didn’t take as good shots in the second half. We needed to be a little bit more patient and work to break teams down.”

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