Some Losses are Simply Embarrassing
In three plus years at the helm in Champaign Nancy Fahey’s B1G record is 5-58. Against Lindsay Whalen’s Gophers, Fahey is 2-0. To the Illini we are a B1G version of the Detroit Lions. Fahey’s other three conquests were Penn State, Wisconsin and THIS JUST IN Purdue (bye, bye Sharon). Resume building wins, they are not.
I’d be willing to type the name of Illini’s 6’3” reserve forward Nancy Panagiotopoulou Andritsopoulou a couple of thousand times if we could defeat the awful team in the orange uniforms. Nevertheless, it’s an awful team that is now on a roll.
We Remember More About the Pre-Game than the Game
Last season’s Illini win was a narrow one, 71-74. After Minnesota allowed Illinois to grab a 12 point (68-56) lead with 4:28 remaining, It took a three pointer outburst by Scalia, Hubbard and Brunson to spark a Minnesota comeback. The Gophers closed to within one 72-71 with 1:11 remaining before the comeback stalled. After missed shots by Scalia and Powell, Hubbard had the ball stolen by Brandi Beasley. Beasley was fouled and knocked down a couple of free throws for the final victory margin. Powell missed a game tying three at the buzzer.
The Illini were led by Petra Holesinska with 28 points and Brandi Beasley 12 points. Kennedi Myles (10 points and 7 rebounds) and Jeanae Terry (9 points and 5 rebounds) provided valuable minutes. Minnesota had four players in double figures: Scalia 16 points, Powell 15, Brunson 14 and Hubbard 12.
Hmm, if there seemed to be a name or two missing from Minnesota’s scoring leaders, there were. Yes, this was the game that the suspensions hit the fan. Destiny Pitts and the Bellos DNP and the game became secondary to the drama. It was the week Whalen personally learned that the chalk board may be the least important aspect of coaching.
Anyway, after winning 4 Big Ten Games in three years, Nancy Fahey was looking for a reboot. Defeating Minnesota just wasn’t enough. Changes were made.
First, the Illini’s three leading scorers: Petra Holesinska, Brandi Beasley and Ali Andrews moved on. Holesinska grad transferred her shooting prowess to North Carolina. Beasley and Andrews graduated.
Then the bench staff was revamped. Nancy Fahey, who had inherited assistants from the previous staff, made two changes. Assistant coach LaKale Malone was replaced by Scott Merritt and assistant coach Vernette Skeete replaced Tianna Kirkland.
Next, Fahey addressed Illinois’ height deficiency. Eva Rubin arrived from Arizona State. She was a lightly used bench player at ASU; but she is 6’5”. Joining Rubin was 6’3” Geovana Lopes from Odessa College.
And, of course, there are the recruits: 6’3” Erika Porter (emphasis on the 6’3”) was one of three freshmen joining the program. The other two were guards 5’11” Aaliyah Nye and 5’9” Aaliyah McQueen. McQueen is a quick, attack the basket guard who can also knock down threes-or so they say. Nye’s height and multi-position play has her putting up some decent freshman numbers.
Providing the Illini’s core were the returning sophomores: 5’11” guard Jeanae Terry, 5’10” guard Jada Peebles and 6’2” forward Kennedi Myles. They are the teams three leading scorers. Myles, who was stuck under the basket, playing out of position last season is more free to roam this season. She’s averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds. Peebles, noted for her defense, started 11 games last season. She’s averaging 11 points/game. Peebles is a mediocre three point shooter even though she takes more threes than her teammates. The big leap forward has come from 5’11” guard Jeanae Terry. Terry is averaging 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4+ assists per game.
“Best Laid Plans”:
Nye, McQueen and Porter played in the conference opener in Nebraska and nearly pulled off the upset. The Illini led 55-54 at the half and were tied at 67 with 2:52 remaining in the game. But they got Haiby’d. The Husker’s Sam Haiby (33 points for the game) led a 11-5 closing run for a 78-72 Husker win.
Promisingly, Illinois finished with five double figure scorers: Peebles 16, Rubin 13, Solape Amusen 13, J-Naya Ephraim 11 and Nye 10. Things were looking up even with the perfunctory postgame complaint about lack of toughness (from the Daily Illini):
A frustrated Rubin, after the game, questioned the team’s preparedness going into the game.
“We’ve got to be tougher, and that starts in practice,” said Rubin, “We know what we signed up for when we came here, we’re trying to rebuild our team, rebuild our culture, and establish a new way of doing things here.”
Fahey echoed that sentiment questioning the team’s toughness. After struggling to shoot outside in the last two games, the Illini turned it around today as they went 9-23 from beyond the arc.
More troublesome were the injuries. The most notable were to the freshman class: Nye, McQueen and Porter played against Nebraska and then were out for extended periods. All three have returned after missing significant time. Porter has played three B1G games, Nye 6 and McQueen 7.
Nye returned for the rematch with Nebraska. It was another close loss 53-57. And again, Haiby made the difference. With the score 55-53 Huskers, Haiby stole an Illini inbounds pass with 10 seconds left and then buried the game sealing free throws. On her return, Nye dropped in 15 points in 23 minutes to lead Illinois. Yes, close losses are featured Illini highlights.
Just to Reiterate:
If hasn’t sunk in, the Illini are an awful awful awful team. They are last in the B1G in scoring 59.5, last in FG% (.369), last in 3 point % and they are 13th in free throw % (.671). They are last in assist to turnover ratio (.670) and last in assists (1.64). It must be said that adding height helped in one category-blocks. The Illini are 10th in blocks; the Gophers are 13th.
The Illini starting five was Terry, Peebles, Myles, Rubin and J-Naya Ephraim. Ephraim is a junior who got her first start two years ago when the Illini defeated the #12 Gophers. She posted 7 points and 5 assists.
But, today versus the Boilers, Aaliyah Nye and Erica Porter replaced Rubin and Ephraim. Porter didn’t do much; but the move seemed to loosen the court for Kennedi Myles. Myles (14 points and 9 rebounds in 37 minutes) was running, scoring and flexing like a legend. The Nye move (8 points in 26 minutes) certainly worked out at the end. With :41 seconds remaining, Nye was the three-point shooter at the culmination of an Illini inbounds play. She nailed it. The Illini led by one and never trailed again as they topped Purdue 54-48.
Just what we need. An awful team entering Williams Arena with a history of beating Minnesota and on a win streak. Forget embarrassing, this could turn plain ugly.
Illinois Big Ten Record (1-10):
Wins: Ha Ha Ha…Oh, wait: Purdue 54-49
Losses: Nebraska 72-78, @ Indiana 56-79, Iowa 68-107, Ohio State 59-78, @ Michigan 50-70, @ Northwestern 54-73, Nebraska 53-57, Penn State 76-80, @ Wisconsin 57-69, @ Michigan State 60-81.
Postponed: Michigan, Michigan State
Jeanae Terry Last Six Games
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Northwestern 11 8 3 28 2 Nebraska 6 5 3 25 4 Penn State 21 16 8 34 5 Wisconsin 28 11 2 34 4 Michigan State 10 10 6 31 0 Purdue 15 7 4 31 1
Jada Peebles Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Northwestern 7 2 1 31 2 Nebraska 2 2 2 26 4 Penn State 19 3 3 38 0 Wisconsin 28 11 2 34 4 Michigan State 17 1 2 33 2 Purdue 6 3 2 38 1
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’11” G Sr Jeanae Terry 30.2 12.2 9.0 5’10” G So Jada Peebles 35.5 10.7 2.0 6’2” F So Kennedi Myles 29.6 10.0 7.1 6’5” C RJr Eva Rubin 22.8 7.9 3.1 5’9” G Jr J-Naya Ephraim 25.9 4.5 2.3
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’11” G Fr Aaliyah Nye 22.3 9.0 1.7 6’1” F So Solape Amusen 12.7 4.5 1.8 5’9” G Fr Aaliyah McQueen 11.9 2.4 3.6 6’3” F Fr Erika Porter 8.1 1.4 0.9 5’11” F Sr Lyric Robins 12.0 2.0 1.8