Illinois women’s basketball experiences ups, downs during first half of the season

Forward+Kendall+Bostic+goes+for+a+layup+during+the+game+against+Purdue+on+Jan.+20.+Bostic+gave+the+team+its+best+performance+of+the+season+so+far+during+the+Eastern+Kentucky+game%2C+recording+12+points+and+22+rebounds+in+the+Illinis+71-57+win+on+Dec.+5.+

Logan Hodson

Forward Kendall Bostic goes for a layup during the game against Purdue on Jan. 20. Bostic gave the team its best performance of the season so far during the Eastern Kentucky game, recording 12 points and 22 rebounds in the Illini’s 71-57 win on Dec. 5.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

For any great college sports program, one of the clear markers of success is consistent winning seasons over a long period of time. For Illinois women’s basketball, it is tough to say they’ve established a winning culture in Champaign. 

The Illini’s last winning season came during the 2012-2013 campaign when they finished 19-14. A slew of losing seasons and less than optimal roster followed. Illinois now finds itself multiple games under .500 record and sits in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings as it continues conference play.

On the surface, the Illini’s losing record would not bring smiles to the faces of the Illinois faithful in State Farm Center, but there have been moments of brilliance this season. In a campaign full of ups and downs, here are some of the pivotal performances so far.

Kendall Bostic’s 22-rebound game

Undoubtedly the best performance of the Illini’s year so far has come from sophomore forward Kendall Bostic against Eastern Kentucky. The Illini had just come off a hard-fought loss to the No. 25 Florida State Seminoles and needed to bounce back versus the Colonels.

At this point in the year, Illinois was just under the .500 mark at 3-4 and had seen a balanced effort in many of their victories. Junior guard Jada Peebles and sophomore guard Aaliyah Nye were shooting the ball well, but the Illini were due for a big game from one of their forwards.

Bostic transferred from Michigan State and saw her role drastically increase. She was now starting every game for head coach Nancy Fahey. Bostic rewarded Fahey’s faith in her, putting up 12 points and a whopping 22 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky. The sophomore transfer had this game pinned on her schedule and knew it would be important for her to play and rebound well if Illinois wanted to come away victorious.

“This was a team we really needed to rebound against,” Bostic said. “We spoke about how a lot of the girls on this team liked to rebound. So, I knew it would be a point of emphasis today, and that if we wanted to win, we needed to board.”

Poor results in the Big Ten

The Big Ten is one of the strongest conferences in the country when it comes to women’s basketball. Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa are the five ranked teams from the Big Ten and have all proved to be tough opponents.

Illinois has learned this the hard way, as it currently is several games below .500 in conference matchups. On Dec. 9, the Illini kicked off Big Ten play against the Michigan State Spartans, a game in which Illinois lost 75-60. Although the game against highly touted Maryland was postponed, Illinois has had double-digit losses to Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue.

The Illini’s saving grace this year has been their strong performances in nonconference play, especially during the early part of the season. However, every single game for the rest of the regular season will come against Big Ten foes. Illinois must be ready to weather the storm.

Aaliyah Nye’s emergence

When former guard Jeanae Terry and former forward Kennedi Myles transferred, it raised many question marks about where the Illinois offensive output would come from this season. New faces in the locker room were necessary, and certain members of the team from the 2020-2021 campaign needed to step up.

Nye has been a pleasant surprise, as she leads the team in scoring. During her freshman year, Nye was a contributor on offense at 8.1 points per game, but she did not contribute nearly as much as she has this season.

In the season opener against North Carolina Central, the East Lansing native dropped 23 points on 9-16 shooting. Nye was happy to kick off the year with such a great shooting performance and knew that her role on the team was going to be much bigger during her sophomore season.

“I knew we had to get something; I knew we could not let them keep going on runs,” Nye said. “Whoever got the ball had to take care of it and make that shot. I did feel like I had to make shots, but everyone helped out as well.”

 

@WillPayne33

[email protected]