WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A season-long narrative of hot and cold quarters played out again for the Fighting Illini women’s basketball team in a 70-66 loss at Purdue Sunday afternoon.
Outscored by a dozen points in the third, and trailing by 16 points in the fourth quarter, Illinois reeled off 13 straight, and then tied the game with less than three minutes to play. Sophomore guard Jada Peebles had a chance for a game-winner with ten seconds to go. But she couldn’t get enough lift in her jumper after running up and down the court for 38 minutes.
“It was straight, I thought it was honestly going in, but it hit the front rim. So just a little more legs and it would’ve gone in,” Peebles said.
Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey said a loss is a loss before admitting that it’s better to mount a furious comeback than lose by 16.
“There’s no doubt about that. There’s two things that happen to teams in our situation, at this time of year. Just give up because of where they are, or keep fighting,” Fahey said. “And it felt much better — the effort, and the feeling on the court and on the bench.”
Illinois has experimented with different line-ups and strategies while gaining in-game experience for a team without a lot of veterans. On that front, Peebles echoed her coach’s sentiment, saying this season is essentially training ground for a better 2022.
“This year, honestly, is a building year. We’re getting everybody, except for Nancy, back next year. I think it’s gonna be a special year next year,” Peebles said. “We all have the confidence. We all know what we need to do and what we need to fix. This year was such a building year, It just gives us so much more confidence for next year, knowing that we can do some damage.”
Peebles was referring to redshirt-Junior forward Nancy Panagiotopoulou Andritsopoulou who, like Senior Lyric Robins, has chosen to participate in Senior Day ceremonies on Friday. A team spokesman says it’s unlikely that either will return next season, despite the extra year afforded by the NCAA’s special COVID-19 eligibility rules.
Geo Lopes, who joined the team this season after two years at a junior college in Texas, was the Illini who demonstrated the most improvement in Sunday’s game. She scored a career-high 12 points, all in the 4th quarter. Lopes assisted on two other field goals in that ten minute frame, and also grabbed five rebounds and garnered a steal in the quarter. Fahey said Lopes earned the opportunity when Eva Rubin got in foul trouble.
“I just was really impressed with her staying with it. Waiting for her opportunity. And boy did she make the most of it during that stretch. That tells you the person behind Geo,” Fahey said.
Lopes, a native of Brazil whose first language is Portuguese, is still nervous about speaking publicly in English. She declined to comment on her performance.
Peebles led Illinois with 13 points. Rubin added ten. Kenndi Myles shared game rebounding honors with Purdue’s Ra’Shaya Kyle at eight apiece. The Boilers got balanced scoring with Brooke Moore and Kayana Traylor providing 17 and 16 points respectively, plus Kyle and Madison Layden contributing ten. Purdue is now 7-14 overall, and 4-13 in the Big Ten. The Illini drop to 1-16 in conference, and 3-17 for the year. Their final regular season game comes Friday at 4 p.m., when they host Minnesota for Senior Day.