Women’s basketball gets major win over Badgers

Illinois+forward+Alex+Wittinger+%2835%29+shoots+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Indiana+State+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Wednesday%2C+Dec.+5%2C+2018.+The+Illini+won+75-57.
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Women’s basketball gets major win over Badgers

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger (35) shoots the ball during the game against Indiana State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The Illini won 75-57.

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger (35) shoots the ball during the game against Indiana State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The Illini won 75-57.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger (35) shoots the ball during the game against Indiana State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The Illini won 75-57.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger (35) shoots the ball during the game against Indiana State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The Illini won 75-57.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s basketball team defeated Wisconsin 78-68 Sunday, snapping a nine-game losing streak and winning their second Big Ten contest this season.

Thanks to senior Alex Wittinger’s 24 points and 12 boards, the Illini fought off a tough Badger team at the State Farm Center.

“It’s great to get a win after this past stretch,” Wittinger said. “But we’re going to enjoy it for today and move on tomorrow.”

Junior Brandi Beasley said Wittinger, who is averaging 15 points per game, is not only an offensive force but a solid defender as well.

“The good thing about Alex is it’s tough to defend her,” Beasley said. “She draws a lot of attention and it opens up stuff for other people to stay aggressive.”

The Illini started the first quarter off with a green light from downtown as they made four three-pointers, including a buzzer beater from Beasley. Throughout the quarter it was neck and neck as both teams splashed contested shots.

“I mean it felt good,” Beasley said. “I don’t know about the rest of the team but it definitely gave me energy. It was a pretty cool shot.”

In the second quarter, the Badgers picked up the pace offensively, starting 4-6 in the first five minutes of the quarter while the Illini were held to shooting just 2-8.

The Illini also struggled with fouls as the Badgers had three-and-ones in the quarter due to the team’s scrappiness down low and physical advantage. With five players at six-foot-two and above, the Badgers took full advantage by drawing fouls and going to the charity stripe 11 times.

Nonetheless, the Illini began to heat up again midway through the quarter, finishing 5-9 including a tough and one by senior Sarah Shewan that got the crowd on its feet. Wittinger played a solid half, scoring eight points, nabbing three rebounds and tallying two nasty blocks.

Every time the Badgers came up with a big play, the Illini matched them with an exciting moment of their own. At the end of the first half, the Illini headed into the locker room up 42-40.

Out of the gates in the second half, Illinois picked up where it left off in the first, nailing four of its first five shots. Although the Badgers started 3-4 from the field, a key steal by Wittinger led to a transition three by freshman sharpshooter Arieal Scott, forcing Wisconsin to take a timeout and garnering cheers from the fans. By the halfway point of the quarter,  there had already been 10 lead changes and neither team could secure a sizable advantage.

But Wittinger seized control.

She shot 7-7 from the field, scoring 16 points, scoring in a variety of ways from contested jumpers to crafty low post moves. Her performance helped mount a 67-59 Illinois lead heading into the fourth.

“Just to have the mindset of hunting my shot, and making sure I can get open for my teammates to get me the ball,” Wittinger said. “My teammates were finding me at good times for me to face up and take my player wherever I needed to go. I think we just did a good job executing the game plan.”

During the final quarter of play, both teams started cold, with the Badgers making just one of their first five shots while the Illini sank just two of their first six. The offensive woes allowed Illinois to maintain a 10-point lead for much of the quarter. The Illini defense continued to stifle the Badger offense, forcing them into contested shots.

But the game was ultimately decided by the Illini’s late-game rebounding. Wittinger grabbed six boards in the fourth, including four key offensively that kept crucial possessions alive.

“I think the team came ready to play and we’re not done yet,” head coach Nancy Fahey said. “I challenged the team, ‘Which team are you?’ And I think they gave the answer today. They came out and played hard.”

The victory marks Illinois’ first Big Ten win since early January when they took down Minnesota. As the Illini improve to 10-14, they will face off against Iowa on Valentine’s Day in Iowa City at 7 p.m. CT.

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