Illinois struggles with Rutgers’ press in road loss


Photo Courtesy of UIUC Women's Basketball Twitter

Freshman Aaliyah Nye shoots the ball in the game against Rutgers on Feb. 20. The Illini lost 75-46.

By Nithin Reddy, Staff Writer

Unable to bounce back, the Illinois women’s basketball team lost to Rutgers, 75-46. The Illini struggled to contain the Scarlet Knights’ dynamic backcourt that featured redshirt senior guard Arella Guirantes and freshman guard Diamond Johnson.

“We gave Johnson too many open looks early, and she shoots the ball really well,” said head coach Nancy Fahey. “We went to zone a couple times and didn’t run after her, and she got free on us. Guirantes, on the other hand, shot more contested shots. Quite frankly, she’s an elite athlete that hit some shots with people right in her face.”

Rutgers got out to an early 11-4 lead after a jumper by Johnson, but the Illini cut the lead to three point thanks to six straight points from sophomore guard Jada Peebles. A late scoring drought by Illinois allowed Rutgers to build its lead back to seven points after 10 minutes of play.

In the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights took control of the game, and their defense stood strong and forced the Illini to play sloppy basketball.

Illinois went nearly eight minutes without scoring, and as a result, the Rutgers lead climbed as high as 21 points. At the half, Rutgers led 41-22, and they never looked back.

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“We were trying to get a balance between not taking too many fast break opportunities and also pulling it out and running a play,” Peebles said. “We had the opportunities when we broke the press. We just didn’t knock them down.”

The Scarlet Knights built off their lead in the third quarter, as Guirantes took command of the team’s offense, and the Illini did not get within 20 points the rest of the way.

Guirantes led all scorers with 24 points, and Johnson added 18 more points. Rutgers shot 48% from the floor and 39% from three while forcing 26 Illinois turnovers. The Illini have struggled immensely when handling full-court pressure in their last two outings, combining for 50 turnovers.

“(Rutgers) started off in a soft press. I thought we handled that. When they cranked that up, with their athletic ability and length, it just really caused us some problems,” Fahey said. “We need to respond better. You’re not going to win many ball games with 26 turnovers.”

The Illini, on the other hand, did not find that same level of success offensively. Illinois shot just 28% from the field and were held below 50 points for the first time all season.

The Illini were led by freshman guard Aaliyah Nye’s 11 points and Peebles’ 10 points. Sophomore guard Jeanae Terry also added eight points, but she did not make a shot and turned the ball over a team-high nine times.

The team has been in a slump lately offensively, as they have scored more than 60 points just once this month. It has been an ongoing issue for the team, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring average and field goal percentage.

The Illini will try and turn things around in their upcoming home game against Northwestern, though the date and time has yet to be set.



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