This was not a regular season to remember for the Illinois women's basketball program.
The Illini closed out the season with two more losses to cap off a winless Big Ten schedule, cementing their place as the No. 14 seed entering the Big Ten Tournament.
However, there was some fight left in this team as they almost pulled off a signature win in their regular season finale against Minnesota. The Illini lost 84-75 in a valiant effort after having the lead in the fourth quarter.
Alex Wittinger, who was thankfully recognized for her play by being named to the All-Big Ten Second Team on Monday, and Brandi Beasley, who flashed her ability to score and facilitate this offense all season long, deserved better than this. The duo again carried the offensive load for Illinois, with Wittinger leading the team in scoring — how many times have I told you that? — with 20 points. Beasley also reached double digits with 10, as the team put up a fight in a game it desperately wanted to win.
A victory wasn't in the cards, and they go into the Big Ten Tournament looking to make some noise and at least make life uncomfortable for the ‘higher’ seeds.
That challenge starts with the 11th-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions on Wednesday afternoon.
They are led by guards Teniya Page and Amari Carter, who average 18.8 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. They are a tough matchup for an Illini team who have struggled against smaller, quicker guards that can shoot. The last time these two teams met, Penn State pulled away late on its way to a 68-59 victory. Page and Carter led the team in scoring, as did Wittinger and Beasley for Illinois.
If they're going to pull off the upset, they'll need more contributions from their bench, and have the same fight and tenacity they showed on Sunday. They'll also need Wittinger and Beasley to do what they do as well.
The Illini start their tournament run at 2:25 pm on Wednesday in Indianapolis.