Illini look to recover, travel to Clemson

Fresh off a 1-1 performance at the Cal Poly ShareSlo Holiday Beach Classic, the Illinois women’s basketball team (4-1) will continue its road trip, traveling to Clemson on Wednesday night.

After collecting their first loss of the season in California, head coach Nancy Fahey and her team are looking to quickly recover and get back in the win column against a Clemson team fresh off a win against Oklahoma.

“We all want to be 5-0; we were one possession away from that, so it’s good, but our goal is to come out and compete every game,” Fahey said. “We are really disappointed after that loss, but at the same time, the season is kind of like a marathon, and you better understand if you have a bump in the road, you have to bounce back the next day and think ahead, so we’re excited for the game against Clemson.”

While the team did not have a perfect weekend, several Illini stepped up during the tournament.

Junior Courtney Joens led the Illini to victory over Cal Poly on Friday night, scoring a career-best 19 points. After playing significant minutes her freshman and sophomore years, Joens is stepping into a bigger role as a leader and is excited to see her hard work paying off.

“I’ve just been working really hard, keeping my shot consistent and working on my ball handling, getting a lot faster on defense,” Joens said. “So just being able to put those skills into actions felt good.”

Despite a tough loss on Saturday night, the development of player development of the past few months began to show, as three senior Illini reached their career-bests in scoring. Junior walk-on Meagan McNicholas also helped the team out and scored her first points as an Illini, highlighting how far every player has come.

“I think that’s the trademark right now; we had five different kids lead in scoring in five different games,” Fahey said. “That didn’t happen last year. I don’t care if it was the same kids, but I think it shows more of a balance, our ability to share the ball, make extra passes, understand the game and be tougher for other teams to scout against us.”

Even though Illinois’ perfect record was lost after Saturday night, the Illini have several positive takeaways as they move further into the season.

“You learn from every loss, and I think it’s good to have your first loss in the beginning of the season,” graduate transfer Sarah Shewan said. “You can learn from that and try not to have a loss like that toward the end of the season when it really, really matters.” 

Illinois will need to utilize the positive energy as they prepare for a Clemson team that is tough on both ends of the court. Earlier in the season, Clemson held Lipscomb to just 26 points, proving to be a dominant defensive team while also highlighting their rebounding skills.

As for Clemson’s offense, the Illini will have to stay focused on junior Kobi Thornton and senior Danielle Edwards, who are averaging 16 and 13 points per game, respectively. After recording 24 points against Oklahoma on Friday, Edwards will be coming into Wednesday’s contest hot and looking to continue the high scoring.

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