Illinois women’s basketball thumps Virginia

By Joey Figueroa

The Illinois women’s basketball team showed no signs of fatigue following its week-long stay in the Virgin Islands and easily dispatched Virginia 86-63 at State Farm Center on Wednesday night.

Junior guard Brittany Carter opened the scoring with a three-point play, which began a 13-0 Illini run, and the Illini (6-2) wouldn’t look back from there. It took the Cavaliers (5-2) eight minutes to score their first field goal, and the Illini led by as much as 17 in the first half.

“At the start of the game we showed we were on edge and showed we wanted it and shut them down,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “We really came out in the second half, too, with a tenacity to us and fight. We just looked like a really good basketball team, which is really fun to see.”

Illinois’ foul trouble and lack of rebounding allowed Virginia to pull within 10 points with three minutes remaining in the half, but senior guard Taylor Tuck made sure the Cavaliers didn’t get closer. Tuck nearly matched her season minutes total with 13 in the first half and made the most of her time by scoring a game-high 11 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, which provided a spark for the Illini — they headed into the locker room with a 38-22 lead.

Bollant said he decided Tuck needed more playing time after the Illinois bench struggled in the Virgin Islands.

“We just felt like she could do it,” Bollant said. “We needed someone to give us a spark and she stepped up and took really good shots.”

Illinois maintained its momentum in the second half and pulled away with a 19-5 run to open the half. The Illini amassed as much as a 34-point lead within the first 10 minutes of the half and cruised from there.

After a poor shooting start to the season, the Illini have picked up their 3-point percentage behind junior guard Kyley Simmons, who had 15 points and knocked down four 3-pointers against the Cavaliers. Simmons credits the team’s newfound range from beyond the arc to Illinois’ dominance in the paint, which draws a large amount of attention from opposing defenses.

“It’s unbelievable,” Simmons said. “It’s like a wide-open ocean, you’re just looking right at the basket and nothing else is in the way.”

Rebounding and refraining from unnecessary fouls have been points of emphasis in recent practices, but the Illini were still out-rebounded 42-29 and committed 21 personal fouls against Virginia. Despite those continuing issues, Illinois managed to come away with a 23-point victory, which might speak to the team’s potential.

“It was 40 minutes of complete basketball, and as well on both ends as we’ve played all year,” Bollant said.

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3