Following back-to-back home wins against Eastern Michigan and Indiana State, the Illinois women’s basketball team will continue their home-stretch hosting the Murray State Racers Tuesday night.
While still in non-conference play, the Big Ten season is quickly approaching Illinois, which acted as the tipping point in last year’s team when the squad went 0-16 in conference play. However, eight games into head coach Nancy Fahey’s second season, returning players have more confidence heading toward Big Ten play.
“I feel good going into the conference season,” said junior Brandi Beasley. “The biggest difference for me is just seeing the fight in this team. Last year a lot of people had to learn what being competitive was, and I feel like we just have more of that fight in us this year. When we get down, we aren’t afraid to fight back no matter what the margin is.”
Along with having a tougher mentality, more time with Fahey has built a stronger foundation for the team. Fahey said last year was all about trying new things and finding what works. Now that the team has a sense of stability, senior Alex Wittinger believes the team is more united.
“We all trust coach, and we are all behind everything she wants us to do, and so that’s been easy because we trust her. There’s no reason to question anything, and that’s been huge,” Wittinger said.
Before focusing on the upcoming conference season, Illinois has three more non-conference games including Murray State, a 3-3 team coming off a 10-day break. While the Racers are heading into State Farm on a two-game losing streak, Murray State has four players averaging scores in the double digits with junior Evelyn Adebayo and freshman Macey Turley leading with 16.2 and 13.3 points, respectively. With three of the four leading scorers being guards, Beasley knows what kind of matchup to anticipate.
“I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do,” Beasley said. “Of course, I’ll guard the point guard. She’s one of high-scorers, so for me, just keeping the ball out of her hands, when she gives it up trying not to let her get the ball back and just disrupting their offense (is good).”
Fahey also notes they have a changing defense, which is something Illinois has seen a lot this season, but it could still be a challenge as Murray State averages 41.8 rebounds and 11 steals per game.
Despite Murray State’s strong numbers, the Illini are heading into the contest with momentum and confidence in their offensive abilities. Averaging 79 points a game with three players scoring in the double digits, Beasley believes Illinois’ offense is becoming hard to scout.
“(The offense) has been working for us so far,” Beasley said. “We have a great coach, so she’s always like putting more into it and changing things around because at this point, people are scouting us. They see what we can do. They see the weapons that we have, so they are preparing for what we have as well. But also (Fahey) is always trying to manipulate the system, putting different things in and giving us a lot more options than we already have.”