Illinois women’s basketball wins big over Fort Wayne

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Illinois women’s basketball wins big over Fort Wayne

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Sophomore Cierra Rice is out with a foot injury but that didn’t stop her from trying to motivate her team before tip-off.

Even with her crutches, Rice was in the middle of the pre-game huddle for the Illinois women’s basketball team. She didn’t move fluidly, but her voice was loud and her message seemed to pay off.

Illinois defeated Fort Wayne 56-33 behind strong performances from junior Kennedy Cattenhead and freshman Petra Holesinska. Both came into the game averaging 8.3 points and 7.2 points respectively, but they were the only two to score in double figures for the Illini.

“I thought (Holesinska and Cattenhead) really stepped up and gave us a lift, especially on the offensive end,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “When we needed baskets these two got us going.”

Neither team shot the ball well to begin the game, but Holesinska finally put Illinois on the board by knocking down a three-pointer to score the game’s first points. She followed it up a few plays later with a baseline jumper, helping Illinois to an early 10-4 lead. Fort Wayne finished the first quarter trailing 16-5.

Illinois’ momentum would not carry over into the second period. The Mastodons held the Illini to just three makes on 16 shot attempts. Despite the team’s poor shooting, one of those made field goals was the play of the game.

Right before halftime, senior Ashley McConnell came up with a steal and threw it ahead to point guard Jaelyne Kirkpatrick. Instead of forcing up a half-court shot, Kirkpatrick then made an extra pass to Holesinska. The freshman caught the ball in stride and buried a last-second three-pointer.

“I feel like the (shot) before the half really helped me,” Holesinska said. “I was more confident, but also the girls made really great passes, so I was wide open usually.”

Holesinska made a season-high five three-pointers and led the Illini in scoring with 17 points. Over the last two games, she’s averaging 15.5 points. The freshman was also active on the defensive end, recording a team-high three blocks.

Sophomore Alex Wittinger had the most shot attempts on the evening, but was held below her season average of 15 points. She recorded just eight points, and was not able to extend her five-game streak of double doubles.

Illinois’ inside presence was spearheaded by Cattenhead. The junior scored 15 points and shot a season-high 70 percent from the field.

“I think that everyone contributes in their own way,” Cattenhead said. “Everybody has to step up and make a play once in a while. We needed a pick-me-up as a team so I feel like getting this win helped our confidence.”

At the tail-end of the fourth quarter Bollant subbed out all of his starters, and his team went on to earn its largest victory of the season. The win moves the Illini to 3-4 in non-conference play and the team will now prepare for its first road trip of the season.

This weekend Illinois will travel to Washington, D.C., to take on George Washington. Bollant believes the Colonials will be tough to defeat because of their size and physicality.

“George Washington is probably the best team we’ll play in the non-conference (schedule),” Bollant said. “They went to their Thanksgiving tournament and beat up on some really good teams. Physically we’re going to have to really go in and play with great energy and great effort.”

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