Illini come back in second half, overtake Memphis in 63-47 victory

By Miles Powers-Huang, Staff writer

Some would say a coach’s true quality comes from the ability to make adjustments when things are not going according to plan. If so, Nancy Fahey is certainly proving her worth as a coach, as her halftime adjustments helped the Illinois women’s basketball team to a 63-47 victory at Memphis on Sunday.

The game opened up back-and-forth, but Memphis used a 22-17 advantage in the second quarter to take a four-point halftime lead. Fahey felt the Tigers’ ability to prevent the Illini’s ball movement allowed them to take the early lead.

“We were moving east and west,” Fahey said. “We were trying to get some basket cuts, (but) Memphis did a good job taking away our ball reversal, that’s why we made the adjustment. We couldn’t swing it to open up and that’s why, in the third quarter, (Memphis) had to guard us north and south.”

Indeed the Illini responded, steadying themselves in the third quarter, but they still trailed by three points heading into the fourth.

However, Fahey’s team proved its ability to close out games and dominated the Tigers 22-3 in the final period, causing a fairly tight game to look lopsided if one were to only check the final box score.

The Illini’s ability to hold the Tigers in the fourth was spearheaded by Fahey’s use of the 2-3 zone, which she sees as a part of the game plan moving forward.

“When you start taking over a new program, you try to implement your layers whether it’s offense (or) defense. Sometimes you want to move faster than you can,” Fahey said. “Tonight we went to the 2-3 zone. That’s another layer that (will) start to show in our game plan.”

The Illini had four players reach double figures in scoring. While starting forwards junior Alex Wittinger (14 points, 10 rebounds) and sophomore Ali Andrews (10 points) and senior guard Kennedy Cattenhead (15 points) matched their usual production, the Illini also received contributions from the bench, as sophomore guard Petra Holešínská made three 3-point shots on her way to 12 points overall.

Fahey praised Holešínská as well as sophomore guard Cierra Rice in her post-game presser. She said she feels the need to sometimes shake up the lineup when her team is struggling.

“I think our bench play in general was really good with (Rice) and (Holešínská),” Fahey said. “We were playing people a little out of position, just trying to stir some things up offensively in the first two quarters.”

The coach was even more proud of her team’s fighting spirit overall. The performance in Memphis could serve as a building block for establishing strong character across the team this season.

“That’s something we’re trying to find in this team, that fight,” Fahey said. “We keep talking about it, and I felt really proud of them. It wasn’t easy, and that showed a lot of character that we’re trying to build.”

After their lopsided loss to Virginia Tech, Fahey stressed that she did not want her team to let that performance affect any of its performances moving forward. With a double-digit, true-road victory, she knows that her team has put that loss in the past.

“We had a rough outing last game,” Fahey said. “This was a big game for us emotionally and mentally. I was really proud that we had that bounce-back attitude.”

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