Illinois falls on senior night to Rutgers

By Daniel Dexter

It was a tale of two halves for the Illinois women’s basketball team, but the result stayed the same: an Illinois loss.

The Illini (8-17, 1-13 Big Ten) hosted Rutgers (16-10, 7-7) on Saturday night at State Farm Center for senior night. Legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer’s Scarlet Knights held a significant height and depth advantage that led a dominant first half.EJ

The Illini fought back and outscored Rutgers in the second half, but that wasn’t enough to overcome a 16-point first-half deficit as the home team fell 63-56.EJ

Illinois head coach Matt Bollant credited his team’s passion for its play in the second half of the game. He said his players missed a couple of shots early and it affected their play throughout the second half.

Illinois managed to score 20 points heading into the break.EJ

“I was disappointed in our passion in the first half,” Bollant said. “We talked a little bit about our immaturity and that showed up early. We didn’t make shots, and we let that affect our aggressiveness and our swagger and our confidence. Part of that is that Rutgers is really good defensively, but we just didn’t play with a lot of passion or a lot of fight.”

Guard Kyley Simmons said the team struggled to make shots in the second quarter and it threw the players off their rhythm.EJ She said that they played with less aggression on the defensive end as a result, which led to Rutgers outscoring the Illini by 10 points in the quarter.

Center Chatrice White took on a big challenge in the post, going against Rutger’s 6-foot-4 center Rachel Hollivay.EJ Illinois’ leading scorer held her own and dropped 26 points and collected 11 rebounds, both of which were team highs.

White also led the team in 3-point field goals attempted by a wide margin. Despite sinking two of her eight attempts, White said she has been expanding her game in the last few seasons by adding perimeter shots to her scoring arsenal.

Bollant said he encouraged White to take more outside shots because it would make it harder for Hollivay to guard her. White netted her only two 3-pointers in the second half, in which she scored 18 of her 26 points.

Illinois outscored Rutgers by nine points in the half.EJ

“I think that I realized that I wanted to send our seniors off on a better note than how we were playing in the first half,” White said. “That gave me more energy, and that helped me get after it. I love going against big post players inside. Rutgers has a couple of them, so that was a challenge for me.”

With just four games left in the regular season, Bollant said his focus is on getting as many wins as possible for the departing senior class. The team’s best chance to get another one will be in its next game against Wisconsin — the only Big Ten team Illinois has beaten this season.EJ

Simmons, a senior, said the team remains positive despite its record, and that the coaching staff has done all it can to make it a meaningful last season for her and her fellow teammates.

“My teammates and coaches have made it a lot of fun this year, even if the win and loss column doesn’t show it,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to go out with fight and doing the best I can for my teammates and coaches.”

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