Illinois women’s basketball sneaks away with win

Illinois’ battle with Memphis came down to one shot. 

Or two, or three or four. 

The Illini failed to score in the last three minutes of the game but still managed to pull out a 60-58victory.

“It felt like an eternity,” head coach Matt Bollant said laughing. “We were up six and it just kind of felt like we needed one more and sometimes you get caught up in the end result and I think we did that a little bit offensively.”

Jacqui Grant and Kyley Simmons both made trips to the free throw line with under a minute left and a chance to pull away. Grant missed the front end of a one and one, and Simmons missed two free throws later. Simmons’ attempts came after she hit the floor hard while diving for a loose ball and came up grabbing at her shoulder. 

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After the misses, Memphis had a 3-point attempt at the buzzer to win, but as all of Illinois’ shots in the waining minutes, it rimmed out. Ariel Hearn was Memphis’ second leading scorer with 13 points, but was 0-for-8 from behind the arc, including the shot at the buzzer. 

The Illini were once again led by two of their freshmen, the latest duo were Chatrice White and Amarah Coleman. Coleman played even more minutes than usual as senior guard Ivory Crawford fouled out after playing only 13 minutes. Coleman ended with 14 points in 28 minutes by using her usual slashing style. 

“Minutes don’t matter at all, it’s just when I get on the court I know I need to play my hardest,” Coleman said. 

Memphis was the biggest test so far for White’s game due to its athleticism, but she responded in a way that shows she’ll be tough for any Big Ten team to keep quiet. White finished with 13 points but also turned up her rebounding by grabbing 15. 

“The size was definitely a problem for me, I noticed it was a little hard for me to post up inside, props to them because they were so physical but my guards still found ways to get me the ball,” White said. 

Memphis also struggled to handle Bollant’s signature “buzz” defense, as they turned the ball over 21 times. Bollant was happy with the level oh toughness his team showed on both ends. 

“It wasn’t the prettiest finish but we found a way to get it done and we battled and fought and I’ll take that much more than pretty basketball where we lack toughness,” Bollant said. 

The Illini play will host Southern University on Sunday to finish out their busy, three game week. The biggest issue they’ve had to start the season is still looming. 

Bollant expected this year’s team to be greatly improved from behind the three point line, but they only knocked down three against Memphis. The three were the most the Illini have had in a game so far this season, after making none in the opener and two in the win over Robert Morris. 

“Every game we get one more, zero then two then three, let’s hope we get at least four on Sunday,” Bollant said with a smile. “We’re trying to grow and be more patient and take the right shots,” Bollant said. 

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @Blerner10