Illini snap lengthy losing streak

Illini snap lengthy losing streak

CHAMPAIGN — Nancy Fahey no longer has to answer any more questions about her team's extended losing streak.

The second-year leader of the Illinois women's basketball program had to put up with one more such inquiry, however, in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's 88-60 season-opening victory over Alabama A&M in front of 2,364 fans on Field Trip Day at State Farm Center, which snapped an 18-game skid dating back to last season.

"So, you can stop saying (losing streak)," Fahey said about her team's first win since Dec. 16, 2017. ... "It's over."

"This is a new team. We're excited about looking forward this year. Just as a coach watching the game (Wednesday), I was really pleased, particularly with their second-half punch."

The Illini (1-0) required a second-half punch to recover from a cold shooting start that had them only leading 29-24 at the break against the Bulldogs (0-1) from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

A clear emphasis of Fahey in her second offseason at the helm of Illinois was to push the ball in transition to create easy buckets for a team that ranked 260th nationally in scoring offense last season.

The Illini had to adjust their gameplan at the break with Alabama A&M forcing last season's leading scorer Alex Wittinger to receive passes further from the basket than the Illini wanted.

"The speed of that team is pretty good," Fahey said. ... "We couldn't really get any (driving) angles (in the first half). Once we got on the same page, that's when we got going."

In the second half, Illinois relied on dribble penetration and good ball movement to provide open looks for its shooters on the perimeter.

Arieal Scott knocked down back-to-back three-pointers late in the third quarter, and Jaelyne Kirkpatrick reeled in a missed three-pointer, dribbled in between a pair of defenders near the top of the key and finished off the play with a fast-break layup.

"We played some pretty great defense at the beginning of the second half and that kind of led to offensive transition," Kirkpatrick said. "When we started getting the ball into the low block, it opened up a lot for driving lanes for kickout threes."

Scott benefited from some wide-open looks in the Urbana native's college debut.

After missing her first two shots from beyond the arc, Scott connected on three of her next five from deep en route to 10 points, one of five Illini in double figures joining Ali Andrews (17), Kirkpatrick (10), Cierra Rice (10) and Wittinger (10).

"Coming in, I was little nervous," Scott said. "But my teammates kept putting me in position to have open looks, so after a couple, I could breathe a little bit more, and it was really good seeing the first one go in."

Like Scott, Illinois found its shooting touch in the second half.

The Illini utilized a 19-5 run spanning the final 2:50 of the third quarter and opening two minutes of the final period to stretch their advantage to 62-43, culminating in Wittinger's layup off an assist from Kirkpatrick.

A second half in which Illinois shot 60 percent from the field and hit eight three-pointers allowed the Illini to produce their best offensive output during Fahey's 32-game tenure so far.

More importantly, Illinois posted its first win in 326 days.

"We've been waiting a long time for this win," Andrews said.