Illinois women’s basketball seeks first road win
January 22, 2017
In seven attempts this season, the Illinois women’s basketball team has yet to win a game on the road. The team’s chances won’t get any easier Sunday when it takes on No. 16 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are currently 16-5 and have only lost three games at home in the past two seasons. Guard Kelsey Mitchell and forward Stephanie Mavunga lead the way for Ohio State who is looking to extend its conference win streak to three.
Mitchell is averaging nearly 23 points per game this season and Illinois head Matt Bollant said she is one of the best guards in the conference. He acknowledged that defending the nation’s fifth leading scorer will be a team effort, but freshman Brandi Beasley will be the team’s leader on defense.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing her for a long time,” Beasley said. “I’ve heard about her since I was in high school (and) she was a freshman. I’m confident in myself. I know she can play and I know I can play as well, so I’m ready to see what’s going to happen.”
Bollant has repeatedly called Beasley Illinois’ best on-ball defender. But she has also solidified herself as the team’s second-leading scorer.
Beasley is averaging just over 11 points per game. She has reached double-figures in 11 of Illinois’ 19 games and has scored over 20 points twice. In the team’s most recent game however, Beasley scored just nine points after shooting 4-for-14 from the field against Minnesota.
Illinois finished the game with only 50 points and forward Alex Wittinger accounted for half of them.
Ohio State averages just over 86 points per game — second in the Big Ten — and in order to stay in the game, Wittinger believes her squad must play together for the entire 40 minutes. She acknowledged that after the game it is easy to see where her squad may not have put forth its best effort.
“Our last game (against Minnesota) we got down right away, so that was rough,” Wittinger said. “But typically we’ve kind of stayed with (our opponents) for three quarters and then it’s the fourth quarter or in this last case the first quarter. We know who their best player is. We need to be prepared and just fight, fight until the end.”
Wittinger will be matched up down low with Mavunga who is averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds per game. Illinois’ sophomore said she is usually undersized as a post player in the Big Ten, but looks forward to competing against a tough opponent.
“I enjoy it. I love playing against good players,” Wittinger said. “It makes me better personally. It makes our team learn more and makes us better in the end.”
The Buckeyes hold an all-time record of 48-20 in their matchups with the Illini, and Illinois has only won five games ever in Columbus, Ohio. When the two teams faced each other last year, Ohio State handed Illinois a 43-point road loss.
Bollant said that his team has struggled to shoot well on the road, and pointed that out as the main factor to coming out with a victory against his team’s first ranked opponent of the season.
“(Against) Iowa and Michigan State, I say we took quick shots (and) we didn’t always take great shots,” Bollant said. “(Against) Minnesota we took great shots. We just didn’t finish and that’s it. Just being able to finish shots on the road is really important.”