The Daily Illini

Illinois women’s basketball to honor legendary coach during Penn State game

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) goes up for a jump shot during the game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Thursday, January 26.

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) goes up for a jump shot during the game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Thursday, January 26.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Alex Wittinger (35) goes up for a jump shot during the game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Thursday, January 26.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The State Farm Center, players and crowd will be adorned in pink Tuesday night when the Illinois women’s basketball team takes on Penn State.

Tuesday is the Illini’s annual Play4Kay night, an event to raise breast cancer awareness in honor of the late Sandra Kay Yow, who coached the U.S. women’s national team and North Carolina State until she passed away in 2009.

“Kay Yow was a mentor to so many coaches,” said head coach Matt Bollant. “I just love the fact that we’re bringing awareness to cancer and doing things to raise money for that. Almost every life has been touched in some way by cancer.”

Yow was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, but she did not let it stop her from coaching the U.S. women’s team to an Olympic gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. Yow won over 700 games with N.C. State and Elon College. She was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

After being in remission for years, Yow’s cancer reappeared during the 2004-2005 season, inspiring players to wear pink in support.

Although she eventually lost that fight, her legacy lives on through the Play4Kay initiative, which raises awareness and money for breast cancer research.

For the players, it is a night to celebrate the life of Yow and have some fun while doing it.

“We’re all pumped because we get to wear our pink shoes, pink uniforms; it’s kind of cool,” said sophomore Alex Wittinger. “Usually we get more people, so it’s fun. It’s a game to look forward to.”

The Daily Illini File Photo
Illinois’ Kennedy Cattenhead drives the ball down the court during the game against Ohio State at the State Farm Center on Saturday, February 14, 2015.

The Illini may need that State Farm Center crowd to energize them, as their losing streak grows.

Illinois has yet to win a game since the spring semester started and the team has now dropped seven in a row.

Despite this, Bollant said the team moral has been positive overall.

“I think they’ve handled it well,” Bollant said. “They’ve been pretty resilient. We’ve been letting them know the things we need to get better at, and I think that they know that they are improving. That’s a good thing; it’s just a challenge to keep them focused on the right things.”

The Illini dropped their first game against the Nittany Lions two weeks ago at University Park, Pennsylvania. Wittinger said that the team learned a few things about the Nitanny Lions during that 82-66 loss.

“What hurt us a lot was that we fouled them a lot,” Wittinger said. “They scored 23 points off of free throws and they are fast in transition. So as long as we play smart and get back after scoring, we’ll be OK.”

Foul trouble and lacking on transition defense are not new problems for Bollant and the Illini. Illinois has recorded 450 personal fouls this season, compared to 359 committed by its opponents. They have had trouble keeping pace with their opponents, who spend a lot of time getting free points from the charity strike.

Teams that have pushed the ball in transition have also caused the Illini lots of problems. Maryland, an up-tempo team, recently beat the Illini by at least 25 points for the second time this season.

Bollant said he told his players that they are 0-0 in their final four games and that this was their chance to start fresh.

“We’ve played all the hard teams,” Wittinger said. “These are all very winnable games, so the goal is 4-0. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

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