After a difficult regular season where the Illini went 10-19 and 2-16 in conference play, Illinois heads off to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, where they are the bottom seed.
In that first-round matchup, which takes place on Wednesday, Illinois will face Purdue, who went 17-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. The winner will take on 6-seed Nebraska on Thursday.
In the only regular season matchup between the two teams, Illinois lost quite handily, 72-50. However, Alex Wittinger only played for 11 minutes in that matchup, scoring only two points and collecting three rebounds. With Wittinger, undoubtedly Illinois’s impact player, getting more minutes this time around, the final score should be much closer.
Purdue has a solid core of players, led by Karissa McLaughlin, who averaged 15.1 points per game and collected 119 assists in the regular season, leading the team in both categories. Illinois will need to contain her, along with Dominque Oden (14.5 PPG) and Ae’Rianna Harris (13.2 PPG) in order to win. With three players sharing the load, this will be a difficult task.
Compare this to Illinois, where only Wittinger (15.0 PPG) comes even close. It would take big games from other Illinois players such as Brandi Beasley, Ali Andrews and Cierra Rice. A great effort from a single player will not suffice against Purdue, who stands between Illinois and the end of the season.
Regular Season Accolades
Wittinger was the only Illini to receive Big Ten honors this season, and with a career like hers, it’s no surprise. Wittinger sits one block short of tying the Illini all-time record, and hopefully she will be able to eclipse it Wednesday.
Though Wittinger led the team in scoring with 435 points, her defense was what earned her recognition this year, placing her on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team, as well as the All Big Ten Second Team. She led the Illinois in rebounds (236) and blocks (71!), and was second on the team with 37 assists, just one short of tying with Brandi Beasley for most. Wittinger is the core of this year’s Illini team, and her presence will undoubtedly be missed in future seasons.
Junior Ali Andrews was also honored with the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Andrews played in all 29 games this year, starting in 26 of them, and picked up 219 points, 18 blocks, and 105 rebounds on the season.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!