Illini struggle throughout 2015-2016 season
May 8, 2016
The Illinois women’s basketball team finished another disappointing season under head coach Matt Bollant’s fourth year.
The Illini (9-21, 2-16 Big Ten) struggled to get anything going in Big Ten play, and as a result, ended their season in last place in the conference.
The team’s 9-21 record is tied for the worst during Bollant’s time at Illinois. The team’s only two conference wins came against a similarly-deficient Wisconsin team.
The team was depleted from the start because of transfers before the season and injuries to key players: forward Simone Law and guard Cierra Rice. Because of the lack of depth, the team brought on senior Alexis Vilunas, a former member of the Illinois volleyball team.
Despite the struggles, Bollant maintained an optimistic attitude throughout the season and praised the work his players put in.
“A lot of coaches when they go through struggles would be anxious to get the year done, and I didn’t feel that way at all,” Bollant said after the season. “I was hoping we could make a run (at the Big Ten Tournament) because I wanted to be around for our players some more because they’ve made it easy to coach and love who they are and just how they carried themselves throughout the year.”
The team relied heavily on center Chatrice White to carry the offensive load. The sophomore led the team in points and rebounds with 18.7 and 9.3 respectively. She was tenth in the conference in points per game and seventh in rebounds per game, which earned her a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
Unfortunately for the Illini, White decided after the season that she will transfer schools. She will be the second Illini to announce her intention to transfer, joining Brooke Kissinger. Kissinger will attend Creighton in the fall.
The team will also lose four players to graduation, including guard Kyley Simmons. Simmons was the starting point guard in all 30 games for Illinois, and commended her coaches for continuing to push the team through the season’s hardships.
“There’s not going to be anything like it in life,” Simmons said after the season. “To be blessed to play for amazing coaches who come to the gym with a smile on their face the next day no matter what that’s what has made this year doable for me and has made me realize that even though in life, things aren’t going to go your way, you’re just going to have to fight through them.”
The Illini will be adding several talented prospects to the team next season. Guard Peca Holesinska, a Czech Republic native, and forward Ali Andrews, a four-star talent, will be among the Illini joining the team next season. The two players are expected to add much-needed scoring threats to the team.
Bollant will be looking to push his team out from the bottom of the Big Ten in what is likely to be a make-or-break 2016-2017 season for him.