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Illinois wins first Big Ten game in two years in dramatic fashion

The Illini are on the right track. (Brad Leeb)

It was a big week for Illinois Women’s Basketball, who took down No. 12 Minnesota Sunday afternoon for their first Big Ten win in 676 days.

The Illini, now 9-5 overall, are 1-2 in conference play.

December 31: Northwestern 68, Illinois 45

After losing to Indiana in overtime, Illinois stumbled right out of the gate against Northwestern, and were outscored 36-18 in the first half.

While the Illini struggled against the Wildcats, freshmen Courtney Joens and J-Naya Ephraim led the team in scoring, with 16 and 11 points respectively. Senior Alex Wittinger picked up seven boards as well.

January 1: Illinois 66, Minnesota 62

The Illini started off their 2019 on a great note, defeating the Golden Gophers and picking up their first Big Ten win in the Nancy Fahey era. They fought back from a 14-point deficit at the half and secured the win on an Arieal Scott three-pointer with 19 seconds to go.

Brandi Beasley led the team with 18 points and six assists, while Wittinger also played a large role in the victory with 11 points and eight boards.

There’s A Bright Future!!

I’ve been attending women’s basketball games for as long as I’ve been here, and this year’s team is different — in a good way. This is a young team, with four true freshmen who are already making their impact known and are regularly getting minutes. Combined with the talent in upperclassmen Wittinger and Beasley, this team is clicking in a manner that last year’s team just didn’t.

In 30 regular season games last year, the Illini lost seven by more than 20 points. This year’s team has lost two by that margin in 14 games. There is obviously work to be done and improvements to be made, but the rebuild of the women’s program seems to be on a very good path.

If Nancy Fahey can continue to add pieces to fill out a solid roster, this team may very well become a competitor in Big Ten play, and a contender for the NCAA Tournament as soon as next year. That’s something to be excited about.

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