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This Week in Illini Athletics: Feb. 14-20, 2022

Illinois softball started its season with a bang.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Ron Johnson-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 (18-6 Overall, 11-3 Big Ten)

Last Week: They lost hold of the lead for a few days, but the 13th-ranked Illini ended the week in the same place they started: in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Playing at No. 3 Purdue on Wednesday, Illinois managed to hang around into the second half, even leading at halftime. However, Purdue’s offense went thermonuclear in the second half as it is known to do, scoring 37 points in the first 12 minutes of the second period before the Illini knew what hit them. The Boilermakers would go on to claim an 84-68 victory.

Hosting Northwestern on Sunday, it was the Illini offense that couldn’t be stopped in the first half, putting up 44 points before the break. After a sleepy second half that let the Wildcats back in the game, Illinois eventually sealed the deal with a 73-66 win. Kofi Cockburn dropped 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win, and RJ Melendez starred off the bench with 14 points.

This Week: Big Ten season continues on as the Illini hit the road this week, with games at Rutgers on Wednesday night at 6 and at No. 17 Michigan State at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL (6-14 Overall, 1-8 Big Ten)

Last Week: Illinois had a tough week, with No. 7 Indiana (93-61) and Nebraska (82-63) both taking big wins at State Farm Center. On Wednesday, the Illini couldn’t stay in the game against the seventh-ranked Hoosiers, but freshman Adalia McKenzie had one of her best games with 14 points off the bench. Illinois played Nebraska even in the second half on Saturday, but it was not enough as it had dug itself too deep a hole in the first half. Sophomore Aaliyah Nye led the Illini with 23 points in the loss.

This Week: The Illini host No. 21 Ohio State at 8 tonight before taking a quick road trip to Purdue on Thursday for a 6 p.m. matchup.

BASEBALL (0-0 Overall, 0-0 Big Ten)

This Week: Illinois baseball opens its season with a three-game series at Kansas from Friday to Sunday.

SOFTBALL (4-1 Overall, 0-0 Big Ten)

Last Week: The Illini went 4-1 on the weekend at the season-opening LSU Tiger Classic including a walk-off win over Central Arkansas on Saturday and an upset of No. 14 LSU on Sunday. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh against UCA, senior Kailee Powell crushed a two-run homer to give the Illini their third win of the season. On Sunday, Illinois took the hosting LSU Tigers to extra innings tied at 2, and then it broke the game open with three runs in the top of the eighth. Freshman Lauren Wiles (W, 2-1) closed the game out in the bottom of the eighth as Illinois took home its first ranked win of the year.

This Week: Another five-game slate awaits the Illini as they travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the Razorback Invitational this weekend. Illinois’ schedule is as follows: No. 25 Wichita State at 10:00 a.m. and No. 8 Arkansas at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Western Illinois at 4:45 p.m. and Longwood at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and No. 8 Arkansas at 12:15 on Sunday afternoon.

WRESTLING (3-7 Overall, 1-7 Big Ten)

Last Week: The Illini dropped a pair of duals to top-10 teams on the road, losing 32-10 to No. Wisconsin on Friday and 23-11 to Nebraska on Sunday. Illinois took two of the 10 bouts against the Badgers and three against Nebraska, with freshman Lucas Byrd (133) registering major decisions in both matches.

This Week: Illinois gets a few weeks off before the Big Ten Championships on March 5 and 6.

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

This Week: The postseason begins for the Illini this week at the Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wisconsin from Wednesday to Saturday.

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

Last Week: No. 5 Illinois took its first loss of the season to No. 2 Oklahoma at Huff Hall on Saturday by a score of 403.950-398.650. Junior Connor McCool (14.150) and senior Ian Skirkey (14.100) won event titles on floor and pommel horse, respectively.

This Week: The Illini get a breather before returning to action at the Winter Cup in Frisco, Texas on February 25 and 26.

WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS (2-3 Overall, 1-3 Big Ten)

Last Week: The Illini scored a season-high 196.450 on Sunday, but No. 14 Michigan State put up an even higher score of 197.425 to take the win in East Lansing. Sophomore Abby Mueller (9.875) and junior Arayah Simons (9.900) both posted career highs on the vault for Illinois.

This Week: Next up for Illinois is the Big Five Meet in Toledo on Friday.

MEN’S TENNIS (1-5 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)

Last Week: Illinois came up empty on its weekend road trip, losing 4-1 to No. 20 Michigan on Friday and 4-0 to Notre Dame on Saturday. The doubles teams of Alex Brown/Gabrielius Guzauskas and Nic Meister/Olivier Stuart each won their set on Friday to give Illinois the doubles point at Michigan, but no Illini finished a singles win in either match.

This Week: After being postponed due to travel concerns, Illinois’ two ACC matchups at Atkins Tennis Center were rescheduled for this weekend, as the Illini host Duke and No. 23 North Carolina on Saturday and Sunday, each at noon.

WOMEN’S TENNIS (6-3 Overall, 0-0 Big Ten)

Last Week: Illinois swept Missouri 4-0 at Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday to win Braggin’ Rights over its southwestern neighbor. The Illini took the first two doubles sets to win the doubles point, and then junior Ashley Yeah, freshman Megan Heuser, and senior Shivani Ingle all won their singles matches in two sets to give Illinois the 4-0 victory.

This Week: The Illini will take the week off, but they will be back in Atkins Tennis Center on February 27 to host Cornell.

MEN’S GOLF

This Week: The 20th-ranked Illini men open their spring campaign at the Mobile Bay Collegiate in Alabama on Monday and Tuesday.

WOMEN’S GOLF

Last Week: Illinois is currently in third place after two rounds at the 14-team Columbia Classic in Melbourne, Florida. The Illini (+7) trail first-place Texas Tech (+4) by three strokes. Senior Crystal Wang (-1) leads the Illini in fifth place, two strokes off the lead.

This Week: The Illini will play the third and final round of the Columbia Classic today at 8:30.

MEN’S and WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD

Last Week: Senior Jon Davis set a school record in the mile with a time of 3:54.59 to highlight a successful weekend for the Illini at Vanderbilt’s Indoor Music City Challenge. Three Illini won event titles, with freshman Tacoria Humphrey winning the high jump at 1.78 meters and junior Olivia Howell once again breaking her own program record in the mile in a blazing 4:33.75 on the women’s side. For the men, freshman Nicolas Dovalovsky won the unseeded 800 meters in 1:51.11.

This Week: It’s a two-meet weekend for the Illini, as they host the Illini Classic on Friday before heading northeast to Notre Dame’s Alex Wilson Invitational on Saturday.