Illini women face uphill climb

Illini women face uphill climb

CHAMPAIGN — The coach of the Big Ten school closest to Illinois distance-wise asks for patience when it comes to the women's basketball program.

Sharon Versyp has won 253 games in 12 years at Purdue. She picked up her latest victory on Super Sunday when the Boilermakers beat Illinois 73-54 at State Farm Center.

"Nancy (Fahey) has won championships," Versyp said. "She'll build a program here. When I played, I went through three different coaches. It's about the players being loyal to the program. They have to buy in. That's the biggest thing any time you take over a program."

Versyp said the effort isn't a problem at Illinois.

"The kids are playing hard for her," she said. "That's half the battle sometimes. I see they're in great hands. Everything takes time. Nothing happens overnight."

Illinois dropped to 0-11 in the Big Ten and extended its conference losing streak to 22 games. The Illini are 9-16 overall.

"People can talk about our record. We're very aware of what's going on here," Fahey said. "If you get caught up in that and don't get caught up in what the next game is, we might as well pack it in. And we're not going to pack it in."

Trying to build in the Big Ten adds to Illinois' challenge.

"It's extremely hard," Versyp said. "Top to bottom, it's a difficult league. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. But you can do it."

The Boilermakers (18-8, 7-3) dominated the first 15 minutes of the game, taking a 29-12 lead. Alex Wittinger and Kennedy Cattenhead scored all of Illinois' points until Brandi Beasley's basket.

Wittinger finished with a team-high 20 points. She was the only Illinois player in double figures.

The Illini outscored Purdue 11-2 in the final minutes to cut the margin to 31-23 at intermission.

Versyp had a simple message for her players:

"'They'd made adjustments. We did this to Michigan. Don't let this team come back on us,'" she said.

Purdue outscored Illinois by 11 in the second half.

Dominique Oden and Andreona Keys scored 22 and 21 points respectively.

"Those two were key," Versyp said. "They let our offense flow and they took the shots when the had them. They were in a groove. When you have two or three players who are knocking down shots, it builds confidence."

• • •

Illinois didn't attempt its first free throw until 1:37 left in the game.

"It's huge," Versyp said. "One of the things that we pride ourselves on is our defense and staying out of foul trouble. We don't have a long bench, so that's been something that's been very important."

Illinois finished 6 for 6 at the line.

"We've had that issue for a bit," Fahey said. "It's not being aggressive off the bounce."

• • •

Seldom-uesed backup forward Cydnee Kinslow had three rebounds and a steal in six minutes. She might have earned more court time in the future.

"Her production on the court, she boxes out, she talks, she does the things that we're starting to build on," Fahey said. "She deserves to play. She's given us good minutes. Those minutes have been earned not only by her attitude, but by her play."

• • •

Illinois returns to action Thursday night at Indiana. It is the only meeting between the schools this season.

Last year, the Hoosiers won the only game between the schools.

Indiana is led by former News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year Tyra Buss. The Mount Carmel native is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with a 19.9 average.

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wayward wrote on February 05, 2018 at 7:02 am

Yeah, the conference record this year is kind of a bummer, but Fahey inherited a program that had been through a lot and lost some strong players (including a top recruit when Bollant got fired). It seems like any coach moving from D3 to a high major D1 is going to have a learning curve, and Big 10 WBB is brutal this year. The recruiting class for next year seems pretty good, so I'm cautiously optimistic.

At some UI games this season, I had floor seats behind the team. Fahey seemed direct and sometimes frustrated, but not nasty. According to reports, when Bollant arrived, he made a list of players he didn't think were good enough to be there and had to be told by the athletic department that no, he couldn't just cut them. It sounds like Fahey treats her players a lot better.