Lone Illini women’s basketball senior Moore’s career winds down


Illinois’ Amber Moore drives the ball during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on Sunday, March 2.

When the Illini women’s basketball team steps on the court to take on Iowa on Thursday for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, guard Amber Moore will be playing like it’s her last game.

Because it very well could be.

Moore is the team’s lone senior, and from here on out every game Illinois plays will be do-or-die. At 9-20, the Illini won’t be playing in any postseason tournaments beyond Big Tens, unless they win the conference tournament, so Moore plans to make her experience special.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said. “The tournament is a fun time, and I’m glad it’s back at Indianapolis. I think (Banker’s Life Fieldhouse) is really fun, it’s a great atmosphere. This is my last go-around, so I want to leave my mark on the Big Ten and the tournament.”

Moore has already left a sizable mark at Illinois. The program has never seen such a prolific shooter in its history. Moore crushed the team’s previous career records for 3-pointers made (291), attempted (894) and holds the record for highest free throw percentage (.846).

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    Moore has always had success wherever she’s been. In grade school, she frequently won the MVP award despite being part of an all-boys team. At Detroit Country Day high school, Moore led her team to 94 wins in 98 games and two Michigan Class B state titles her junior and senior seasons. Her success garnered her the No. 2 ranking in the state from MichLadyBallers.com and an offer from then-head coach Jolette Law to play for Illinois.

    Once Moore came to Champaign, the tides turned. As a freshman, Moore was poised to make an immediate impact for the Illini, but tore her ACL in her first collegiate game, an overtime loss to Temple. The injury cost her the entire season.

    “For me to get hurt, it was just sad,” Moore said. “I came in with the No. 2 recruiting class, and I thought we were going to do damage. Just not being able to play with Jenna Smith, one of the best players that ever played here, really put a damper on me. That year I learned how to help my teammates off the court and just being on the sideline, you get a different perspective of the game.”

    The injury gave Moore an extra year of eligibility, thus removing her from the senior class of 2013 which included former Illinois standouts Adrienne GodBold, Karisma Penn and Kersten Magrum. Moore said she was more emotional during their Senior Day ceremony than at her own, which took place after Sunday’s loss to Iowa.

    “It was tough,” she said. “I cried my eyes out. They were the people I came in with, and I was close to them. Just to see them leave and know they weren’t going to be here for my last year was really tough for me.”

    Through the years of playing with GodBold, Penn and Magrum, Moore experienced her ups and downs. In the season she missed because of the ACL tear, the Illini finished with a 19-15 record and won three games in the Women’s NIT, losing to Illinois State in the quarterfinals.

    Illinois struggled in its next two seasons, winning just nine and 11 games, respectively. The end result: Law lost her job, a move that surprised Moore.

    “When you’re coming to a college based on the coaching staff, and then they leave, it’s kind of like: ‘This is why I came here, what do I do?’” Moore said. “The coaching staff that came in, I trusted them as soon as they stepped foot in the door. It was difficult at first, but you know, change is always difficult.”

    When head coach Matt Bollant was signed after a successful stint at Green Bay, the Illini felt his impact immediately. In his first season at Illinois, Bollant led the team to a 19-14 season, their best finish since 2007, and another trip to the Women’s NIT quarterfinals, where the Illini would fall to Kansas State. The season would be Moore’s only winning season as an Illinois player, but she said it helped her transition into her role as a leader on the Illini.

    “I’ve always been a leader by example, but it’s turned me into more of a vocal leader,” she said. “I get to help my teammates out with the knowledge I know, and I think that’s helped me a lot as well.”

    Guard Taylor Tuck, Moore’s teammate for three seasons, described her as the “team mom.”

    “She’s the mature one, she’s older, and she looks out for everybody,” Tuck said. “I think she’s always been a leader on the team, especially this year, part of the reason because she’s the only senior.

    “We all look to her on and off the floor.”

    Akin to how Moore’s college career was reset after her devastating injury, the Illini’s season will be reset starting Thursday. Moore said, despite the team’s record, they still have the pieces and talent to make a run and surprise everyone this weekend.

    “We’ve battled in a lot of games this year,” Moore said, noting the team’s win against Seton Hall after having a 20-point deficit. “The Big Ten Tournament is coming up and everyone is starting back at 0-0, so anything can happen. We just need to have that spirit and make sure we know we have a chance. Even though our record isn’t that great, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

    When Moore’s career eventually does come to an end, she said she doesn’t plan to quit playing the game. Moore will work out in the postseason in hopes of securing a contract with a professional women’s team overseas. She said she did not care where she plays, as long as she plays, but specified that she prefers to play in France or Australia, as they are destinations she’s always wanted to see.

    While it’s uncertain whether the Illini will make an impact in the conference tournament, Bollant has no doubts as to the impact and contributions Moore has made for Illinois throughout her five-year career.

    “She’s meant a lot to this program.”

    Blake can be reached at [email protected].