Starting anew? Illinois hopes for new start after latest loss to Minnesota

Starting anew? Illinois hopes for new start after latest loss to Minnesota

CHAMPAIGN — A fresh start. Just what the Illinois women's basketball team needs most.

Minnesota defeated the Illini 84-75 Sunday at State Farm Center.

Illinois ended the regular season with an 0-16 Big Ten record, the first winless conference season in school history.

"You have to look forward, but learn from the past," first-year Illinois coach Nancy Fahey said. "We have to learn from just what happened. Coaching is teaching."

The team, which opened the season 9-4, has lost 17 consecutive games. The last victory came more than two months ago on Dec. 16 at home against Austin Peay.

Late in the third quarter Sunday, it looked like the skid might end. Illinois rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half to take an eight-point lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter.

"We're definitely more competitive," Fahey said. "We can beat these teams.

"We've been trying to get over the hump."

The Gophers, who needed the win to move into a third-place tie in the final Big Ten standings, controlled the rest of the game. Minnesota outscored the Illini 37-20 in the last 13 minutes.

"We made some poor decisions with the ball," Fahey said. "They countered and we didn't have the same punch back."

Illinois' 9-21 season gets wiped away Wednesday, when it opens Big Ten tournament play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The No. 14 seed draws Penn State in the first game.

"It's a new season and everybody is 0-0 going into the tournament," Illini star Alex Wittinger said. "We're going to have to have that mindset."

The Nittany Lions won the only matchup against the teams this season, taking a 68-59 decision Jan. 23 at State College, Pa. In that game, Wittinger recorded just the second triple-double in program history.

Minnesota led 37-30 at the break. Carlie Wagner and Kenisha Bell combined for 28 points. Wagner had seven rebounds.

The Gophers had a 31-21 edge on the glass. They also hit 14 of 18 free throws, which helped compensate for 25 percent shooting from the floor.

Minnesota finished with a 53-36 rebound edge. It outscored Illinois at the line 30-10. Both areas have been issues for the Illini this season.

 

NOTES: Illinois celebrated Senior Day before the game, honoring departing players Kennedy Cattenhead and Alli Ball.

Cattenhead spent five years in the program after a standout career at Bolingbrook High School. She had 10 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

"It's bittersweet, but I'm just excited for this program and where it's going to go in the years to come," Cattenhead said. "I appreciate how my teammates played in this last game."

Wittinger said she will miss Cattenhead, on and off the court.

"Kennedy is a great teammate and she's a great leader," Wittinger said. "Everybody on the team loves her and she's a joy to be around. It's going to leave a hole when she leaves that won't be filled."

Ball joined the Illini this season after graduating early from Akron. She had an assist in four minutes against the Gophers.

"What you want out of your seniors is leadership and a team-first attitude," Fahey said. "Those guys inherited me and they had a choice. I feel like they have an understanding of what we're trying to do here. I think you can here that from Kennedy. And if you talk to Alli, it's the same thing."