Confident Andrews reaches new heights for Illinois

 

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INDIANAPOLIS — The belief Ali Andrews' teammates have had in her ability to be one of the better shooters on the Illinois women's basketball team has never wavered.

What's different about the 6-foot-2 junior forward out of Huntley High School, according to her teammates, is Andrews' willingness to shoot the ball and accept the result.

A hesitant Andrews has given way to a confident Andrews and the Illini have seen a spike in production from the Lake in the Hills native with each passing season.

Andrews, who's shooting a career-best 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, has shot at an even better clip over the past seven games. She's shooting 53.6 percent on her three-point attempts during that stretch and averaging 10.6 points per game.

"We used to have to yell at her to shoot the ball all the time," senior Alex Wittinger said of a younger Andrews. "Now, she's learned how to hunt her own shot better."

Andrews' strong finish to her junior campaign began in unexpected fashion during a 72-50 loss at Purdue on Feb. 7. After leading scorer and rebounder Wittinger went down to a sprained right ankle in the first half against the Boilermakers, Andrews was forced to step out of her comfort zone by playing more with her back to the basket as opposed to being a face-up shooter.

Andrews played well, notching her first double-double by going 6 of 11 on her attempts inside the arc and pulling down 11 rebounds en route to 15 points.

Now, almost a full month later, Andrews and 14th-seeded Illinois (10-19) will attempt to keep their season going when they face 11th-seeded Purdue (17-14) at 3 p.m. today during the first round of the Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Andrews' emergence this season as more of a deep threat has been the result of extra time in the gym. Andrews shows up about 30-45 minutes before practice and even stays afterward, attempting to make 500 three-pointers each day.

"I've just been working on my three-point shot a lot lately, just to be consistent," Andrews said. "That's kind of my role on this team to be consistent and knock down my shots when they're open. ...

"Over the summer, I knew that I was going to have to play more inside this year and that's just something that Coach (John) Patterson and Coach (Steve) Cochran have worked on with me a lot is my face-up shots because I'm a little undersized in the post. I'm just trying to match them up and reverse and take them off the bounce from there."

This season alone, Illini coach Nancy Fahey has watched Andrews' game expand, allowing the junior to utilize her "nice touch" on a mid-post step-back jumper. With Andrews continuing to gain confidence, it's incumbent on her teammates to look her way, Fahey said.

Coming off Saturday's 71-62 loss at No. 8 Maryland, in which Illinois matched the Big Ten regular-season champions in the half court on both ends of the floor, Fahey came away impressed and hopes a full game with Wittinger on the floor will make a difference in her team's rematch against Purdue.

"Someone came up to me halfway through the (Maryland) game and said, 'Your kids are playing so hard.' And that's what we have to do and that's what we matched," Fahey said. "The intensity that we played with, we stayed true to our game plan. Maryland hit a couple three-point shots. They freed up their shooters a couple times, and they hit a couple boards, but if you were at the game and saw the game, you could see that we took steps in that game."

Sports Copy Editor

Joe Vozzelli Jr. is a sports copy editor at The News-Gazette. His email is jvozzelli@news-gazette.com.