Wittinger's career night not enough for Illini

Wittinger's career night not enough for Illini

CHAMPAIGN — The Big Ten's career leading scorer wasn't the best player on the State Farm Center court Tuesday night.

Oh sure, Kelsey Mitchell had her usual big game, scoring 28 points in Ohio State's 88-69 win against Illinois in front of 1,149 fans.

But Mitchell was surpassed, at least for one game, by Illini Alex Wittinger.

"Phenomenal," Illinois coach Nancy Fahey said.

The junior scored a career-high 30 points, had 16 rebounds (11 on offense) and blocked three shots.

The glass work was by design.

"I deliberately tried to focus on rebounding, and that helped offensively," Wittinger said. "I don't think I've been doing it as much as I need to, effectively."

Good thing the coach wasn't keeping the scorebook.

"I'll be honest, I didn't know it was 30," Fahey said. "It makes a lot of sense if you get 11 offensive boards, a lot of those will be putbacks."

Despite Wittinger's efforts — which featured 18 points and eight rebounds in the first half — Illinois (9-18, 0-13 Big Ten) lost its 24th consecutive league game. Ohio State (21-6, 10-3) pestered the Illini with a pressing defense that helped force 17 turnovers

"They aren't No. 16 in the country for nothing," Wittinger said. "They are pretty athletic. We've got to figure out how to break it and eventually they took it off."

Mitchell hit 5 of 11 three-pointers. Wittinger was impresed.

"She's a great player," Wittinger said. "I respect her a lot. She's a phenomenal shooter. It's a privilege to play against her."

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff liked what he saw from the Illinois star.

"She played really well," McGuff said. "She played hard. That's the one thing that really stood out.

"I've been watching her over the years, and she's a great player."

McGuff said Fahey is doing a good job in her first season.

They're energized and they're playing hard," he said. "They haven't won a Big Ten game, so it's not easy to always get your team to show up and play hard. You can tell (Fahey) is investing a lot in this group and they're responding."

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Sophomore guard Brandi Beasley was one of two Illini to hit 15 points, joining Ali Andrews. Beasley didn't start the game because of an illness, but played 37 minutes.

"It had nothing to do with anything else other than sickness," Fahey said.

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Illinois returns to action Sunday afternoon against Northwestern. The Wildcats beat the Illini 74-59 Dec. 31 at State Farm Center.

Because of renovations at its arena, Northwestern is playing games this season at Evanston High School.

It's been a while since Fahey worked in a high school gym.

Probably 30-some years." Fahey said.

"We played Northwestern extremely early in the season and we're a much different team."