CHAMPAIGN — The Fighting Illini women’s basketball team gave another Jekyll and Hyde performance in yesterday’s 58-50 loss to the 15th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in Champaign.
Eighteen first half fouls forced the Illini to rethink how they were defending. Coach Nancy Fahey said the analysis proved fruitful.
“There’s a maneuver called a Masgov that you can jump and they can jump, and we can all jump in our space,” Fahey said. “There’s other times that we just flat-out reached. It did force us, you know, to got to zone, but I think the kids played a nice defensive zone game actually in the third and fourth quarter.”
A monstrous second period morphed into a third quarter rally, turning an 18-point deficit into a one-point game with 2:39 remaining in the fourth. But Illinois was unable to connect on its final five shots from the field, and Indiana closed the game with free-throws.
Jada Peebles led the Illini in scoring with 13 points, and also dished a game-high three assists. She was the only player on either squad to play all 40 minutes without a substitution, and that was fine by her.
“I literally told her when she walked off, I did not want her to pull me today,” Peebles said. “I was getting turnovers. I was getting stops. She could have pulled me, but I feel like I just need to push through.”
Fahey didn’t realize Peebles had no breaks. She said Peebles never signaled to the sideline that she might need a breather.
“She’s like the Everready (Energizer) Bunny. She just keeps going,” Fahey said. “If it’s one of those, and you look at a kid and they’re gassed, and you can see it, then I would pull ’em. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even see it today, and she can tell you if I missed it.”
Aaliyah Nye added 12 points for Illinois. Kennedi Myles grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, helping the Illini to a 45-36 edge on the glass.
Eva Rubin returned to the starting lineup, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds before fouling out with four minutes to go. She earned most of those fouls in shutting down Hoosiers forward Mackenzie Holmes, who shot 1-for-16 from the field Sunday. Holmes entered the game as the Big Ten’s 6th leading scorer on shooting 62 percent shooting.
Fahey said that defensive effort was key to keeping the game close.
“Multiple players defended her, but Eva Rubin had the assignment pretty much all night,” Fahey said. “First game, we let her get too deep. I thought we did a good job of staying disciplined, staying behind her and keeping off the sweet spot low on the block.”
Holmes finished with seven points and a team-high ten rebounds for the Hoosiers. Ali Patberg led Indiana in scoring with 16 points. Nicole Cardano-Hillary added 11 and Grace Berger ten. Indiana improves to 13-4, 11-2 in the conference.
Illinois is now 3-13 overall, 1-12 in the Big Ten. Next up is an east coast swing to Maryland and Rutgers. The first stop is College Park against the Terrapins, where they’ll tip off at noon CT Wednesday on Big Ten Network.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.