Illini iron out some details in victory over Chicago State

Illini iron out some details in victory over Chicago State

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois still has some wrinkles to iron out now just three games into the Nancy Fahey era.

Like always remembering to make sure there's somebody to inbound the ball to whoever's running the point — something overlooked twice on Wednesday night against Chicago State. Or fully executing the offense Fahey wants to run. Or avoiding a flat start to the third quarter after holding a double-digit halftime lead.

The last of those Fahey fixed on the fly during Wednesday's 66-56 nonconference victory for the Illini at State Farm Center in front of 1,056 fans.

The offensive end was easier to address. Fewer careless passes and the subsequent unforced errors got Illinois back on track.

Stopping Chicago State's third-quarter run meant a schematic switch on defense. The Illini moved to a 2-3 zone — a move Fahey said was based on percentages she'd seen in her scout.

It made a difference.

Illinois kept the Cougars better in check after the switch and managed to hold on for their second home win this season in as many tries.

"I think we came out flat," Fahey said of the second half. "I think that's something we have to think about when we're up 17 at half."

Illinois (2-1) stretched its lead to 20 points early in the fourth quarter — a high for the game. Three straight Chicago State buckets trimmed it to 13. The Cougars (0-2) were only able to cut their deficit to single digits in the final seconds of the game, but they lingered.

Ten second half turnovers for the Illini didn't help.

"The turnovers unforced, that is a big concern for me," Fahey said. "You secure a rebound and you throw the ball right to the other team. We can't have those unnecessary, quick, unforced turnovers."

Wittinger paced Illinois with a double-double, hitting game highs with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Ali Andrews added 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists, though she did all of her scoring in the first half while not missing any of the six shots she attempted. Nine points apiece from Brandi Beasley and Courtney Joens rounded out the Illini's top scorers.

The Illini want to work the ball inside to their two forwards. That became even more of a necessity as shots stopped falling from perimeter in the second half. Illinois was just 1 of 9 from three-point range in the final two quarters.

"Once you start tightening up on the perimeter everybody tightens up, and we got tight as knot," Fahey said. "We want to go inside. The first half we were trying to pick up our tempo, but we took a lot of one-pass shots. That's fine if you're rolling."

And that wouldn't have described Illinois in the second half. The Illini play again at 2 p.m. Saturday against Bradley. Three games into the Fahey era, Illinois, like many teams at this point of the season, is still a work in progress.

The turnovers were Fahey's primary concern. The fact Chicago State outworked the Illini in the second half for stretches is also something the Hall of Fame coach intends to address before they play the Braves in a third early home game.

"I think they're playing hard, but I think we've got another level and we're going to try and find that," she said. "I'll get them there."