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Illinois drops two tough contests

Illinois has lost eight straight Big Ten games, falling to 9-12 on the season.

Brad Leeb (FightingIllini.com)

It’s been one month since Illinois women’s basketball last won a game, following a tough week where the Illini had chances to pick up two quality wins against Big Ten opponents. Now 9-12, Illinois is 1-9 in Big Ten play.

January 31, 2019: Ohio State 78, Illinois 70

Illinois fought with the Buckeyes through the first quarter, but lapses in the second and fourth quarters put the game away for good as the Illini fell on the road. Brandi Beasley led the team with 23 points, while Alex Wittinger and Arieal Scott added 18 and 11 of their own, respectively.

As a team, the Illini collected 39 rebounds in a group effort, as all who played recorded at least one board, and no player grabbed more than five.

February 4, 2019: #11 Maryland 80, Illinois 66

While the Illini came out hot against a top-ranked Maryland squad, a 22-2 run later in the first quarter put the game away. The Illini did fight back, but weren’t able to make up enough ground to end their losing streak.

Beasley led the team in scoring once again, with 17 points. However, the Illini’s most efficient player on offense was Sarah Shewan, who scored 16 points in 18 minutes, making five of the seven three-pointers she attempted. Wittinger also picked up a double-double, with 15 points and 10 rebounds to her name.

Big Picture: Forty Minutes Is What It Takes

While this year’s Illini squad is a marked improvement over last year’s team, there are still issues that need to be addressed in order for this program to succeed. The largest of those, in my mind, being the inconsistency in play we see.

At almost every game I’ve attended this year, Illinois has been able to put together roughly 25 minutes of good basketball. And those 25 minutes are usually pretty good! The team moves the ball well, generates open looks and scores often. The defense makes quality stops and collects boards.

But those 15 minutes are what kill the Illini time and time again, and the team looks like a polar opposite. Bad luck certainly plays a role, but there’s always a period in each game where Illinois makes ill-advised decisions, especially on the defensive end. During these stretches, shooters are constantly left open and the Illini seemingly cannot collect a rebound.

While Illinois could get away with these lapses against non-conference opponents, it takes 40 minutes of good play to beat Big Ten teams. Until the Illini can consistently play good basketball and limit these lapses to possibly five minutes a game or less, there won’t be consistent wins in conference play.

Luckily, this year’s team is young, with three freshmen getting regular minutes. Throw in impact players such as Brandi Beasley and Petra Holešínská (who has sat out this season with an injury), and this team is definitely trending upwards. It takes time, but the Illini still aren’t there.

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