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This Week in Illini Athletics: Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2022

Illinois gymnastics had an... eventful win on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to “This Week in Illini Athletics,” a weekly review of the past week of Illini sports and a preview of the week to come.

MEN’S BASKETBALL (15-5 Overall, 8-2 Big Ten)

Last Week: Despite missing Andre Curbelo for both games and Kofi Cockburn for one, #24 Illinois basketball got back on track this week, defeating #10 Michigan State on Tuesday in front of a sold out State Farm Center and extending its winning streak over Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday. Without their top two players in Cockburn and Curbelo, the Illini got MSU into a defensive slugfest, and they ultimately came out on top 56-55. Despite leading by 14 at halftime though, Illinois almost let victory slip away, failing to score any points in the last five minutes of the game. A missed Spartan free throw with less than a second left sealed the top-10 win for the Illini. On Saturday, it was the Illini who mounted a late comeback, but this one was successful as Illinois would win 59-56. Kofi Cockburn was back for this game and he let Northwestern know it, with his 22 points and 9 rebounds both leading the Illini. But despite Cockburn’s dominance, it was a team effort in the win, with key contributions from freshmen RJ Melendez and Brandin Podziemski off the bench.

This Week: The top two teams in the Big Ten meet in a battle for first place in Champaign on Wednesday as Illinois hosts #11 Wisconsin at 8 p.m. The Illini then travel to Indiana for an early 11 a.m. matchup on Saturday.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL (6-11 Overall, 1-5 Big Ten)

Last Week: Both of Illinois’ games this week were postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the program.

This Week: The Illini host #7 Michigan on Thursday night at 7 before traveling to Wisconsin for a 1 p.m. tipoff on Sunday.

WRESTLING (2-4 Overall, 0-4 Big Ten)

Last Week: The tough Big Ten slate handed Illinois another loss on Saturday as it dropped its match 26-13 to Northwestern at State Farm Center. The Illini won four of the 10 bouts, with decisions from freshman Lucas Byrd (133), senior Dylan Duncan (141), and sophomore Zac Braunagel (184) along with a major decision from sophomore Danny Braunagel (165).

This Week: Illinois hosts #16 Minnesota on Friday night at 7 and Indiana on Sunday at 1 p.m.

WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING (5-4 Overall, 1-3 Big Ten)

Last Week: The Illini dropped their regular season Big Ten finale at Purdue by a score of 188-111 on Saturday. Sophomore Cara Bognar and senior Abby Cabush won two events each, with Bognar taking the 1000 freestyle (10:17.64) and 500 freestyle (5:04.71) and Cabush coming on top in the 200 freestyle (1:50.14) and 100 freestyle (51.16).

This Week: Illinois travels to Chicago for the UIC Diving Invitational on Saturday in its final meet before the Big Ten Championships.

MEN’S GYMNASTICS (1-0 Overall, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last Week: The sixth-ranked Illini snuck past #9 Penn State in a tightly contested meet in Happy Valley on Saturday. Illinois trailed for most of the meet, with PSU clinging onto a 0.5-point lead with one rotation remaining. After the final rotation, Penn State had won by a score of 397.550-397.250, but the meet somehow wasn’t decided yet. It turned out that Penn State was awarded an extra point on a clerical error. When the error was fixed, it was the Illini who won 397.250-396.550. Illinois took three of the six event titles: junior Evan Manivong won vault (14.850), senior Hamish Carter won high bar (13.800), and junior Connor McCool won floor (13.500).

This Week: In a brutal Big Ten schedule, the Illini have another top-10 matchup looming on Saturday as they host #5 Ohio State at 2 p.m.

WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS (2-0 Overall, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last Week: The Illini women also won at Penn State on Saturday — albeit in much less dramatic fashion than the men — taking the meet by a score of 196.350-195.475. Illinois scored above a 49 in three of the four events in the victory.

This Week: Illinois has a busy week, with Big Ten duals at Nebraska tonight at 6:30 and against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon at 2 at Huff Hall. Sandwiched between them is a quad meet with Georgia and Central Michigan at Kentucky on Friday at 6 p.m.

MEN’S TENNIS (1-3 Overall, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last Week: The 25th-ranked Illini lost a pair of tough matches at ITA Kickoff Weekend at Ole Miss. On Friday, NC State topped Illinois by a score of 4-2; the Illini took the doubles point, but senior Olivier Stuart was Illinois’ lone singles winner. It didn’t get easier for the Illini on Saturday, as #22 Oklahoma defeated Illinois 4-1. Stuart won his singles match again to get Illinois on the board.

This Week: It’s a busy weekend at Atkins Tennis Center. The Illini host Illinois State at 1 p.m. on Friday. Then a pair of ACC rivals come to town, with Illinois playing Duke on Friday night at 6 and #17 North Carolina at the same time on Saturday.

WOMEN’S TENNIS (4-3 Overall, 0-0 Big Ten)

Last Week: Illinois came up just short in both of its matches at ITA Kickoff Weekend, losing narrowly to host #18 Florida State on Saturday and Florida International on Sunday. The Illini fell behind 3-1 to the Seminoles, but they were not done yet. Illinois came back to tie the match at 3, and freshman Kasia Treiber won the second set in the final singles match to send it to a decisive third set. Treiber ultimately lost a back and forth third set as Florida State secured its 4-3 victory. On Sunday, Illinois took the doubles point, but it only won one singles match (senior Shivani Ingle) and it lost to FIU by a score of 4-2.

This Week: The Illini host Illinois State on Sunday at noon in their lone match this week.

MEN’S and WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD

Last Week: The Illini secured nine event titles at Lousiville’s PNC Lenny Lyles Invitational on Saturday — six on the men’s side and three on the women’s. For the men, senior Jon Davis won both the 800 meters (1:51.22) and the mile (4:05.50). Meanwhile, junior Olivia Howell set the Illini program record in the mile (4:40.48) for the women and won the 800 meters (2:08.30) as well.

This Week: Next up on the schedule for Illinois is the Meyo Invitational at Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday.