Illinois bounces back with 53-50 win over Omaha


Ryan Ash

Kennedi Myles calls for the ball from J-Naya Ephraim Dec. 2 when Illinois faced Valparaiso. Both players have chosen to play elsewhere next season, with Myles already announcing her decision to transfer to Marquette.

By Nithin Reddy, Assistant Video Editor

The Illinois women’s basketball team defeated Omaha 53-50 Sunday afternoon in Champaign. Coming off a close loss to Valparaiso the Illini were looking to get back in the win column. Head coach Nancy Fahey attributes the turnaround to the preparation leading up to the game.

“It was a pretty intense three days of practice,” said Fahey, “There’s two things that can happen, a coach can push a team and they can be pushed over the edge or you can push a team and they can push and get better. We grinded it pretty hard the last few days.”

Early on, Omaha was able to attack the rim and find easy shots around the rim and on kick-outs. However, after getting out to a 9-4 lead, Omaha’s lead started shrinking. The Illini defense forced Omaha’s offense into mistakes and the Illini capitalized with a three-pointer from junior guard J-Naya Ephraim and sophomore guard Jada Peebles. After one, the Illini led Omaha 12-11.

The Illini started off with the first points of the second quarter after redshirt-junior Center Eva Rubin made two free throws and sophomore forward Kennedi Myles made a jumper. The Illini would continue to slowly build the lead after an and-one by Ephraim gave Illinois a six-point lead. Omaha would close the gap, led by their defense. In the last six minutes of the first half, the Illini shot just 2-for-9 but led 24-22. Omaha switched between their defenses throughout.

“They went man, they sagged off, they went zone 1-2-2, and they came out late triangle and two,” said Fahey. “We hadn’t seen that in their repertoire, and that’s why it’s really important we adjusted and played through it.”

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In the third quarter, the Illini started to separate themselves. After trading baskets early in the quarter, the Illini offense came to life and after an Ephraim layup, the Illini led 35-28. The lead continued to grow with Illinois leading after the third quarter by 10 points.

In a game where both teams struggled to shoot the ball, a double-digit lead seemed to be more than enough. Omaha slowly chipped away at the lead, and they trailed by five points with 6:36 left in the game.

Omaha’s defense would step up as Illinois continued their offensive struggles down the stretch. A layup by sophomore guard Sarah Schmitt would bring Omaha within one point with a little over a minute left in the game. On the next possession, the Illini would get three opportunities to extend the lead but failed to do so as Omaha would get the ball back with 19 seconds in the game and a chance to come out of Champaign with the win.

Omaha wouldn’t get a shot off after senior guard Claire Killian lost the ball. Following two free throws by Peebles, Omaha would get one last chance but missed as time expired.

Despite leading scorer, sophomore guard Jeanae Terry, finishing with just two points, the Illini supporting cast was able to do enough. Myles finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds her second straight double-double and Rubin scored 11 points of her own. Peebles stood out for the Illini scoring a game-high 15 points and making three out of Illinois’s four three-pointers. Peebles gives credit to the bigs inside helping her play with more space.

“Last year going from not having much size in the post, it’s much better this year. It just opens up the floor a lot more for the three,” said Peebles.

The Illini shooting struggles continued as they shot below 30% from the field and 20% from three. Fahey isn’t too worried heading into the conference schedule.

The Illini’s next game will be Thursday in Lincoln, Nebraska as Illinois starts Big Ten play against the Cornhuskers.


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