Six Illini in double figures as women’s basketball stays undefeated at home

By Jon Joffe, Staff writer

Two things were evident in the Illinois’ first quarter of action versus Southern Illinois: The Illini wanted to push the tempo on offense, and everything was running through redshirt senior Kyley Simmons.

Illinois (6-1) head coach Matt Bollant said before the season that he wanted his voice to be heard above all others, and that was the case Tuesday night in his team’s 78-64 win over Southern Illinois (4-4). His voice could easily be recognized from the sideline as he shouted “push” to his team when it crossed half court.

Simmons (11 points, four assists, six rebounds) finished the first quarter with six points and two assists, as the Illini led the Salukis 20-17 after the first 10 minutes.

Simmons fed off of screens near the top of the key set by sophomore Chatrice White (16 points and 13 rebounds) and freshman Alex Wittinger (10 points and four rebounds), dishing the ball away when the deep threat opportunity was not there.

The Illini shot 50 percent from the field in the first quarter, but the Salukis matched their hot hand: The visitors made 43 percent of their shots from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc in the first frame.

The second quarter was more even on both sides — the two squads went to the locker room with 35 points apiece.

They traded punches to begin the second half with Illinois ultimately grabbing a five-point lead over Southern after three quarters.

The Illini cruised in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Salukis 43-29 in the second half.

Six Illini players finished in double figures, led by Big Ten Freshman of the Week Cierra Rice, who put up 17.

“I love that, honestly,” Bollant said referencing his players’ point distribution. “As a coach, if you were to say ‘What would you script?’ I would script six kids in double figures and having great balance.”

Bollant was unhappy with the offensive rebounds (nine) that his team gave up in the first half. Pushing the tempo on offense was done in an attempt to prevent Southern from crashing the boards, but that pace didn’t pay off until the second half.

“(Southern Illinois) didn’t seem quite as sharp in that fourth quarter,” Bollant said. “Them having to get back on defense for 40 minutes against a team that’s pretty athletic and runs pretty hard, I think it maybe helped us a little bit.”

Simmons thought the scoring distribution was a result of Saluki defenders keying up on her and defending on ball screens. As a point guard, she adjusted, moving the ball around, giving other players chances to contribute. Simmons credited White’s work down low as a major key to success in the contest, but White said the Illini’s common philosophy was the reason for their success.

“It definitely says that we’re not just one dimensional,” White said. “We can move the ball and we like to get our teammates shots. It’s not just our points, it’s about who can get the most assists.”

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