Bollant leads team through struggling start to season

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Bollant leads team through struggling start to season

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) shoots a jumper during the game against Wake Forest at State Farm Center on Wednesday, November 30. The Illini lost 79-70.

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) shoots a jumper during the game against Wake Forest at State Farm Center on Wednesday, November 30. The Illini lost 79-70.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) shoots a jumper during the game against Wake Forest at State Farm Center on Wednesday, November 30. The Illini lost 79-70.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) shoots a jumper during the game against Wake Forest at State Farm Center on Wednesday, November 30. The Illini lost 79-70.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Editor’s note: At the time of publication, Women’s Basketball was still competing.

Coming into the season, Illinois knew it would be starting a new era of basketball. Leading scorer and rebounder Chatrice White would no longer be the woman in the middle after transferring to Florida State.

On Big Ten media day, head coach Matt Bollant acknowledged that his team’s offense would change and that he would be implementing a more free-flowing offense to matchup with his team’s versatility. He also recognized sophomore Alex Wittinger as the team’s new leader.

“We have six freshmen coming in and told them, ‘If you want to be great, follow Alex. Do what Alex Wittinger does,’” Bollant said. “There’s not a harder worker maybe in the Big Ten or throughout the country. Last year she got our most improved award and she has improved a ton from last March until now.”

Eleven games into the season, the Illinois basketball team’s record stands at 4-7. The Illini have yet to begin their conference schedule, but it is clear that they’ve struggled against opponents outside of the Big Ten. The team is averaging just over 58 points per game on 36 percent shooting.

Illinois’ struggles actually began before the season even started. In an exhibition game against division-two Drury University. Guard Paige Wilson torched Illinois for 24 points behind six three-pointers, and helped her team earn a 66-60 victory. After the game, Bollant said that his team would need to do a better job of communicating on defense.

“They ran a couple of good sets early, and we got a little bit lost,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “I thought we played hard, but at times, we got lost in our rotations and didn’t do a good job of finding (Wilson). Her taking 11 threes is way too many threes, and most of them were pretty good looks.”

Despite the team’s overall struggles, Wittinger is living up to her coach’s hype. The sophomore forward has recorded five double-doubles so far this season. She also leads the Illini in points and rebounds, averaging 13 and 10 respectively. Last season she averaged just over 10 points and seven rebounds per game.

Freshman Brandi Beasley is Illinois’ second leading scorer and it is clear that she isn’t afraid of the moment. In her first collegiate game she recorded eight points and seven rebounds against Marshall. And more recently, in a nine-point loss to Wake Forest, she recorded her first career double-double. The freshman is also currently leading the team in minutes per game.

Bollant has repeatedly praised Beasley for how hard she plays on both ends of the floor, and he said that he is confident that she can handle playing a large amount of minutes. In blowout loss to Mercer earlier this year, Beasley played the entire game.

“I’m very comfortable with it,” Beasley said. “It feels good to play 40 minutes as a freshman. Not a lot of freshmen get that experience. It’s fun.”

Illinois still has four games left before it prepares for its Big Ten schedule, and it will try to get back above .500 before its conference-opener against Iowa.

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