White leads new era for Illinois women’s basketball

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Illinois’ Chatrice White attempts a contested layup during the game against Ohio State at State Farm Center on Saturday, Feb. 14.

By Joey Figueroa

After an up-and-down season, the Illinois women’s basketball team was all smiles after its 72-60 win over Michigan on Saturday. Even though the regular season concluded honoring Illinois’ senior class, it was a freshman who stole the show, a telling sign for what’s to come for this program.

Freshman center Chatrice White scored a career-high 30 points on Saturday, sending a message that a new era is set to begin for the Illini.

At the conclusion of this season, Illinois (15-15, 6-12 Big Ten) will be completely comprised of players recruited by head coach Matt Bollant, led by his prized five-star center.

“She’s been great,” Bollant said of White. “We expected her to be an impact player and challenged her to be consistent, and she’s done that. When (White) plays good, we play good as a team, which has been great.”

There was a lot of hype surrounding White before the season and she didn’t disappoint, ending the season on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Finishing in the top 15 in just about every major statistical category in the conference, White also earned an all-Big Ten Honorable Mention, the first freshman Illini to do so since 2007.

“It just feels really cool to represent my school and just to know that I played really well this year and it didn’t go unnoticed,” White said of her accolades.

As her coaches and teammates endearingly call her, “Tree” showed how important she is to Illinois’ success this season and for seasons to come. The Illini were 8-3 when White led them in scoring, 7-5 when she was the team’s leading rebounder and 3-1 when the freshman phenom led Illinois in both categories.

White established her presence early on — she posted a double-double in her first game as an Illini and did not slow down from there. In a season that earned her three separate Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, White finished the season near the top of nearly all of Illinois’ statistical lists.

The 6-foot-3 center from Nebraska led the Illini in rebounding (7.1), blocked shots (2) and free throw attempts (117). She was second on the team in scoring (14.8) and field goal percentage (44 percent), only trailing senior guard Ivory Crawford.

Despite missing seven games of the season due to a knee injury, Crawford also garnered an all-Big Ten Honorable Mention and after being the team’s leader on and off the court the past few seasons, she leaves the program in White’s capable hands.

“As a freshman, she was just a coachable person,” Crawford said. “Some freshmen are really not that coachable and able to grow. Tree was just a great example of being a leader also while she’s learning.”

Following the Big Ten tournament, Crawford will leave Illinois with her name all over the school record books. She is in the top 15 of nine different Illini statistical categories, including 13th in all-time scoring, with 1,390 points, and fifth all-time in steals, with 236.

Getting closer and closer to leaving Illinois to follow her dream of going pro, Crawford said she hopes she set a positive example for the younger players on the team. White confirmed the senior leader’s hopes.

“With Ivory, I just learned how she played the game and it made me see the game differently and look for different opportunities,” White said. “I just had a great group of seniors that I really looked up to this year and I’m really going to miss them.”

After a 9-21 2013-2014 season, it was a quick rebuilding process for Bollant and the Illini — they tripled their conference win total from a year ago. With another four-star recruit coming to Illinois next season, just reaching the Big Ten tournament may not be the end game for Illinois in the near future.

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