Illinois rolls in the fourth quarter, seals first win of season

Guard+Cierra+Rice+sprints+up+the+court+during+the+game+against+Tennessee+State+at+Parkland+College+on+Nov.+24.+2015.
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Illinois rolls in the fourth quarter, seals first win of season

Guard Cierra Rice sprints up the court during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Nov. 24. 2015.

Guard Cierra Rice sprints up the court during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Nov. 24. 2015.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Guard Cierra Rice sprints up the court during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Nov. 24. 2015.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Guard Cierra Rice sprints up the court during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Nov. 24. 2015.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Through three quarters of the game, the Illinois women’s basketball team could not pull away from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The game was physical and a bit sloppy at times, but it was close. The Lions entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead, thanks to forward Niya Head’s 16 points.

Alex Wittinger had 19 points on 9-14 shooting for the Illini, and Jaylene Kirkpatrick had 11 points, including three three-pointers.

Cierra Rice was a high profile scorer before her season-ending injury last season, and in this game, she was 0-for-6 through three quarters.

But with just under nine minutes left in the game, Rice became more involved. Kirkpatrick missed a three-pointer that would have taken the lead for the Illini, but Rice grabbed the board, put it back up and got the shot and the foul for a three-point play.

Rice scored nine in the fourth quarter, and Kennedy Cattenhead, who had also struggled through most of the game, chipped in four, and the Illini locked up their first win of the season, 70-58.

“That offensive rebound putback was huge,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “It was a huge momentum play for us, and sometimes that’s what you need when you’re not knocking down shots.”

The Illini defense also stepped up in a big way in the fourth quarter, forcing five turnovers and limiting the Lions to 2-for-19 from the field. The Illini used a mix of 2-2-1 and buzz defenses to take advantage of the Golden Lions who couldn’t handle the pressure the Illini defense put on them.

“I think we stayed active on defense, putting pressure on the ball, and it worked for us,” point guard Brandi Beasley said.

Beasley was one of three freshmen in the staring lineup, along with center Ali Andrews and shooting guard Petra Holsinska, who started in place of Jaylene Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was very effective coming off the bench, and Bollant opted to go with the sophomore down the stretch.

“Jaylene played so well in the first half that we started with her in the second half,” Bollant said. “She came off the bench with a lot of life, I just really liked the way she played throughout the game. (Petra) rushed a little bit in the first half. I thought she played really well in the last game, but she just shot it a little bit quick.”

Kirkpatrick and Beasley saw a lot of the floor together, and the two point guards were an effective one-two punch for the Illini, who moved the ball much more than they did against Marshall or Drury. Bollant stressed ball movement to his team in this game and spent much of his time telling his players to swing the ball more from the bench.

“If we’re just driving to the rim and not looking for our open people, usually it’s a bad shot,” Wittinger said. “So if we can be patient and move the ball around, we’re gonna get higher percentage shots, and that’s what happened in the fourth quarter.”

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