Scott finds expanded role in first season

Scott finds expanded role in first season

CHAMPAIGN — With braids in her hair, Arieal Scott caught Nancy Fahey off guard inside the weight room during preseason workouts.

So much so that Fahey asked if a player from another team was lifting with the Illinois women's basketball team.

Then, Scott turned around, and the Illini's second-year coach realized it was in fact Illinois' gregarious 5-foot-9 freshman guard who was sporting such a look.

"I am not a boring person," Scott said. "I have a really outgoing personality. With my hair, I like to change it up all the time. For the next game, it will probably be something different."

The Illini have gotten used to Scott changing her countenance, and with it, Fahey and company have seen the Urbana native settle in nicely to her role as a freshman.

Scott has averaged 10.1 points per game — the fourth-highest tally on Illinois (5-2) — entering today's 7 p.m. nonconference game against Indiana State (4-2) at State Farm Center.

It was enough for Fahey to move Scott into the starting lineup alongside the likes of Brandi Beasley, Cierra Rice, Alex Wittinger and Ali Andrews.

Scott, who made her first career start against Eastern Michigan last Saturday, replaced Courtney Joens and had a shaky debut in the starting five during a 72-66 overtime victory over the Eagles.

In the first 22 seconds of Saturday's game, Scott lost track of Danielle Minott and fouled the speedy EMU guard. On the next possession, she dribbled the ball off her foot for a turnover.

"The first play after I fouled, I was like, 'Oh, goodness Arieal,'" Scott said. "I was a little nervous still from actually starting. It's a big stage. It's different than high school ball and all of that. After I dribbled off my foot, I was like, 'You can do this. This is what you do every single day.' I just had to breathe a little bit and I was fine after that."

Those two mistakes didn't linger with Scott for too long, however.

Less than 30 seconds had elapsed on the clock after her aforementioned turnover when Scott spun around in the lane and scooped in a layup.

Those might have been Scott's only points of the game, with the freshman missing each of her seven other attempts from the field in the remaining 21:56 she was on the court, but Fahey was still OK with the guard's aggressive mindset.

"It's (on to) the next play with her," Fahey said. "If you're a person who's going to shoot the ball, you better have a next-play attitude. You notice at the end (of the game) she just kept shooting it, and I was OK with it because that's what you want kids to do. Shoot it."

Fahey has made one item clear: Practice well and the reward is extra minutes. Scott's consistent play in practice led to the decision to insert the freshman into the starting lineup.

Fahey broke the news to Scott after last Friday's practice, and also sat down with Joens to explain the reasoning behind the move to shift the junior guard to the bench.

Joens understood the decision.

"They are two players who have been swinging back and forth in that spot," Fahey said. "For me, it's just the start of the game. There is a mentality that you have to understand about that. It's really how much do you want to play. There's a responsibility to starting. ... They just to win."

Fahey has been forced to be more creative with her guard rotations following a season-ending knee injury to Petra Holesinska and an undisclosed injury that Jaelyne Kirkpatrick suffered in the Illini's victory over Valparaiso on Nov. 14. Kirkpatrick has missed Illinois' past five games, and was wearing a walking boot during Saturday's overtime win over the Eagles.

The injuries to Kirkpatrick and Holesinska, who averaged 17.4 and 22.6 minutes per game, respectively, last season, have meant increased opportunities for freshmen like J-Naya Ephraim and Scott.

For Scott, who had been away from basketball for 22 months and acknowledged she's "out of shape" but "putting in extra time" to adjust to game speed, the opportunity to play again — and start — is blessing and then some.

"It's a dream come true," Scott said. "Yeah, I had some difficulties in the beginning. I didn't know if I was going to keep playing. Once I came back and worked through all of that, my teammates were so amazing. Even playing in the first game, even getting on the floor, was just like, 'Wow, you made it but you didn't make it yet because it's a whole new beginning.' I am very appreciative that Coach Fahey stuck with me through everything."