Illini have high hopes for game against Boilermakers

Illinois is set to take on Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis.

The Illini are the No. 14 seed, finishing the regular season with a 2-16 conference record, but the team believes they have just as good of a shot at winning as their Big Ten foes.

While Illinois did not achieve what it hoped for in the win column this season, the Illini have furthered the development of their ‘team culture’. Head coach Nancy Fahey believes although she wants wins, success can’t always be measured through the standings.

“This team is competing, and every time we step out there we want to win, but there’s progress being made,” said Fahey. “I want to win more ball games. I care about winning, but I care more about those 14 players and how they’ve developed and how they’ve never given up. They keep fighting.”

With Fahey’s confidence, the team is looking to prove everyone wrong and come out with a win against Purdue. In the regular season, the teams faced off at West Lafayette where the Illini fell 72-50.

The Illini played the majority of the contest without their leading scorer, as Alex Wittinger suffered an injury early in the first half. Another consistent force for the Illini, junior Brandi Beasley, was completely shutdown against Purdue as she was unable to score.

While Wittinger and Beasley were down, junior Ali Andrews picked up the slack, recording her first career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Andrews has often shown her ability as a clutch player for Illinois, hitting three-pointers in tight situations. This season, the forward is shooting 44 percent from behind the arc and has shot 66 percent from the spot over the past four games.

“I’ve been working on my three-point shot a lot lately, just to be consistent,” said Andrews. “I think that’s my role on this team, to be consistent and knock down my shots when they’re open and just to be a leader on this team.”

Despite Andrews’ performance, Illinois shot just 29 percent from the field while Purdue shot 48 percent. Shooting became the game’s deciding factor as the teams were close to even in rebounding, turnovers and points in the paint.

Purdue’s offensive flow came from four Boilermakers scoring in double digits led by sophomore Karissa McLaughlin’s 23 points.

To come out with the win, the Illini need to focus on creating a strong offensive rhythm with Andrews, Beasley and Wittinger all contributing. On the defensive end, the Illini need to crash the boards and keep junior Ae’Rianna Harris locked down inside the paint.

Despite Illinois’ previous loss to Purdue, Fahey believes her team wants to finish the season on a high note and is confident in their ability to pick up the win.

“We’ve stopped concentrating on the name that’s on the front of the jersey of who we’re playing, no disrespect to any opponent, but to focus in on what we can accomplish and what we can do,” said Fahey.

[email protected]