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Illinois women’s basketball loses to Indiana

Guard+Ashley+McConnell+takes+a+shot+during+the+game+against+Tennessee+State+at+Parkland+College+on+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+24.+Illinois+won+98-43.
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Illinois women’s basketball loses to Indiana

Guard Ashley McConnell takes a shot during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Illinois won 98-43.

Guard Ashley McConnell takes a shot during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Illinois won 98-43.

The Daily Illini Photo

Guard Ashley McConnell takes a shot during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Illinois won 98-43.

The Daily Illini Photo

The Daily Illini Photo

Guard Ashley McConnell takes a shot during the game against Tennessee State at Parkland College on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Illinois won 98-43.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Illinois women’s basketball team started its game against Indiana firing on all cylinders. But it didn’t last for long, and the Illini fell 74-60.

On offense, Kennedy Cattenhead scored eight quick points and the team shot 46.7 percent from the field. On defense Alex Wittinger shut the Hoosiers out of the paint.

Indiana looked out-of-sync when they had the ball, and Illinois built a 14 point lead by the second quarter.

“We came out with a lot of energy,” Cattenhead said. “With our team, we need to come out with energy on every possession or we kind of fall off from where we can be.”

But then the misfortune struck the Illini.

Wittinger came into a timeout halfway into the second quarter visibly in pain, gingerly holding up her pinkie finger on her left hand. She immediately went back to the locker room, where her ring and pinkie fingers were wrapped together.

Although she came back on the floor briefly later in the quarter, she was later removed from the game.

On the floor, Wittinger’s absence was immediately noticeable. The Illini were forced to play more on the perimeter on offense. This made them more predictable, and while they still put up points, their numbers slowly began to drop.

On the other side of the ball, the Illini missed Wittinger even more.

Indiana found lots of success down low, taking advantage of its height. As the game went on, the Hoosiers looked sharper and sharper with the ball, moving the ball quickly and dragging the Illini out of position.

The Illini simply could not keep up with the speed of the Hoosiers ball movement, leading to plenty of open looks for the visitors.

“Not having Alex, our depth wasn’t as good,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “And (Indiana’s Jenn) Anderson is such a physical player, we had to work really hard to keep her off the block. It maybe wore down our post in the second half.”

Without Wittinger in the paint, the Illini also had trouble rebounding on both sides of the floor against a very physical Hoosiers lineup. By the end of the game, the Hoosiers out-rebounded the Illini by 18, and scored 19 second chance points off of their 18 offensive rebounds.

“Indiana passes so well, they are really efficient offensively,” Bollant said. “So when you give them second chances they were able to hurt us.”

The Illini held their lead until just before halftime, but once the Hoosiers began to rally back, they never turned back.

The Illini will have to put their 11 game losing streak behind them as they take on Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday.

The big question mark headed into that game will be Wittinger’s health.

“It’s obviously very concerning because she’s such a great player,” Bollant said. “Now if anyone can play through an injury it’s Alex (Wittinger). We’ll find out what (the injury) is, but she’s one of the toughest kids I’ve coached and if there is a way, she’ll find a way.”

While this was the last home game of the season for the Illinois’ seven freshmen, for its lone senior, guard Ashley McConnell, it was the last ever game at State Farm Center.

McConnell was honored before the game, and given a framed jersey for her and her family to take home.

“Ashley is one of the greatest kids I’ve coached in terms of her attitude and being a great teammate.” Bollant said. “You just don’t see as many kids who can come off the bench and whether they play or not have a great attitude. Energy is contagious, and she shows up every day with a smile on her face and she’s ready to work.”

McConnell was accompanied by her parents during the ceremony. While she kept her composure and smiled happily, she said it was an emotional moment.

“It was exciting, it was sad,” McConnell said. “I had a lot of emotions but I’m just really happy that my teammates and the coaches made this day really special for me, I was very thankful for that.”

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