Recent tough stretch leads to reflection for Fahey, Illini

Recent tough stretch leads to reflection for Fahey, Illini

CHAMPAIGN — A two-hour delay at the airport in State College, Pa., allowed more time for the Illinois women's basketball team to stew over a 14-point loss at Penn State.

Players sat around in silence inside the terminal.

When the Illini arrived back in Champaign-Urbana hours later last Saturday night, second-year Illinois coach Nancy Fahey said she took a "long walk" through the freshly-fallen snow around her neighborhood replaying in her mind what went wrong against the Nittany Lions.

The losses are taking their toll on Illinois and Fahey, who said she "grumbled for 48 hours" after the 62-48 defeat to Penn State.

On Wednesday afternoon, Fahey tried to put a positive spin on the progress the Illini have made from last season's 0-16 Big Ten campaign to this season, where Illinois already has a conference win under its belt. The Illini (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten) will have a chance to relive some positive vibes from their upset win over Minnesota and break a two-game losing streak during today's 7 p.m. showdown against Nebraska (7-9, 2-3) at State Farm Center.

"Now, we have an expectation to go out and win," Fahey said. "So when we fall short, it's hurting more, which is exactly where we want to be. It should hurt. We're in a different place. I don't need them to hurt for four hours, but I do understand we have to hurt for a little bit and move on. It's not play acting either. ... These kids are feeling it."

When Fahey watched film from the loss to the Nittany Lions on Sunday, it was as much about self-reflection as anything else. Fahey admits she'll consult people "outside the program" to ask for advice because "they see the most obvious things."

"You look at what the kids' production is and you have to look at what you're doing yourself," Fahey continued. "I think the minute you start pointing the finger at the kids, they have every right to point back at you. We're in this together."

What has eluded the Illini in their first five games of the conference season has been a full 40 minutes of execution on both ends of the floor. Even in its 66-62 win at Minnesota on Jan. 6, Illinois had to overcome a second quarter in which it was outscored 23-8.

While the Illini built a 25-16 lead late in the first half at Penn State — a reversal of fortunes from the previous three games in which Illinois trailed by double digits at halftime — all of that work was undone over the final 23 minutes of Saturday's game, as the Nittany Lions outscored Fahey's team 46-23.

It's "the lack of execution and focus at certain times," said junior Brandi Beasley, who is 30 points away from reaching the 1,000-point mark for her career. "We have sometimes where we start off good and then we break down or we start off bad and we find ourselves in a hole trying to catch back up. The biggest thing is to stay locked in for the entire game, the entire 40 minutes would be big for us."

Fahey said she wants to see more consistency from her offense, as Illinois has averaged 60.4 points against Big Ten foes. Arieal Scott and Courtney Joens have been two complementary pieces to top scorers Alex Wittinger and Beasley. Scott hit the game-sealing three-pointer at Minnesota and Joens tallied a team-high 13 points against Rutgers.

One player the Illini will be without is Jaelyne Kirkpatrick, who will be sidelined for a "week or two," according to Fahey, with a calf injury.