Illinois women’s basketball unable to keep up with Rutgers

By Masaki Sugimoto, Assistant sports editor for video

The Illinois women’s basketball team came into its second game ever against Rutgers looking to even the series after last season’s 80-56 beatdown at the hands of the Scarlet Knights.

Unfortunately for the Illini, they couldn’t escape the specter of last season’s loss Wednesday night, falling to Rutgers 67-54 at the RAC.

The loss puts Illinois at 7-9 overall and 0-5 in Big Ten Play. Rutgers improves to 12-5 and 3-2 in the conference.

The Illini stayed within four points of Rutgers through the first five minutes despite the host’s reputation as a team that creates turnovers and gets big leads early in the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights eventually made good on that reputation, leading 20-9 at the end of the first quarter and never looking back.

“We had some great shots and you have to make shots on the road to beat a team as good as Rutgers,” Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. “We didn’t do enough of that in the first half”

Junior guard Tyler Scaife and senior center Rachel Holivay led the Scarlet Knights through the first quarter, combining for 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting.

Part of that success came from the passing of Rutgers senior guard Briyona Canty, who dished out four assists in the first quarter and controlled the offense well.

Scaife would emerge as the player of the game for Rutgers, finishing the game with 27 pts on 11-for-14 shooting as well as five rebounds and four assists.

“We guarded her poorly,” Bollant said of the several open jumpers his team gave Scaife. “I think our confidence is a little shaken. We got some kids who can really shoot it, but we gotta step up and make shots.”

A string of Illini threes in the second quarter wasn’t enough to bring them back into the game. Rutgers went into halftime with a 12-point lead, largely on the backs of Scaife and Holiday, who scored 26 of their team’s 38 first-half points.

Illini forward Chatrice White, to be a non-factor in the second half, scoring only two points — after scoring 11 in the first half — and grabbing only two rebounds.

Rutgers turned up the heat in the fourth quarter, extending its lead to as high as 16 thanks to the strong play of Kahleah Copper, who scored seven points in the fourth quarter.

Kyley Simmons led the Illini with 17 points and made five of the team’s seven threes. Bollant’s squad made 29.2 percent of its 3-pointers Wednesday night.

“Make a few more shots and be better with some little things.” Bollant said of what his players have to do in order to improve.

The Illini return to Champaign to face Wisconsin on Sunday and attempt to get their first Big Ten victory of the season.

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