Adrienne GodBold has been available to play to the final buzzer just once this season.
Karisma Penn and Ivory Crawford have been forced to end the game on the bench five times in 18 games.
The trio of GodBold, Penn and Crawford accounts for 72 percent of Illinois’ scoring, 59 percent of the team’s rebounding, 72 percent of its steals and 85 percent of its blocks, but Illinois’ three greatest contributors are often not available in the closing minutes of games due to foul trouble.
The Illinois women’s basketball team has had its players foul out more times (21) than any other team in the country this season. Disqualifications have played a key role in each of Illinois’ four most recent losses, all of which have been decided by four points or less.
In each of the losses, the Illini were missing at least two current starters when time expired.
In a 69-68 loss to Illinois State on Dec. 21, Crawford fouled out and GodBold was academically ineligible. Penn and GodBold fouled out in a 67-66 overtime loss to Purdue and a 79-75 loss to Michigan State. Point guard Alexis Smith, Penn and GodBold fouled out in Sunday’s 62-58 loss to Northwestern.
GodBold, Penn and Crawford have accounted for 16 disqualifications. The three top scorers alone have fouled out more times than any team in the country other than the Ohio Valley’s Jacksonville State.
Smith has accounted for two more disqualifications, and frontcourt reserves Kersten Magrum, McKenzie Piper and Nia Oden have each fouled out once this season.
Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said his aggressive style of play is likely to accumulate more fouls.
His teams have a history of accumulating a lot of fouls. Last season, his Green Bay squad finished 290th out of 336 teams with 18.3 fouls per game, but the Lady Phoenix only had 10 players foul out in 33 games. He said since players were more familiar with his system and knew when to decrease aggression, they fouled out less often.
Illinois has also had a history of fouling in recent years. Last season, the Illini averaged 17.8 fouls per game, and recorded 13 disqualifications in 30 games.
The combination of Bollant’s coaching style and his roster’s aggressive tendencies have led to an average of 19.4 fouls per game, ranking 320th out of 343 teams nationally. The aggression has also helped the team force 23.7 turnovers per game, the most in the Big Ten and fifth-best in the nation.
“We are getting in foul trouble, but we are being more aggressive and forcing a lot more turnovers,” Bollant said. “That being said, I think it’s possible to force turnovers without fouling people or else we wouldn’t play this system.”
Bollant said he is fine with fouls coming from aggression, but too many fouls have come from mental mistakes and frustration.
GodBold has fouled out in six of her seven games. Foul trouble has limited her to 32.3 minutes per game, fourth on the team, despite being the team’s top scorer, second-leading rebounder and top perimeter defender. Mental lapses many times lead to GodBold’s fouls.
“Be smart. That’s something I need to do as a starter,” GodBold said. “I tend to be overly aggressive most of the time. That’s how I get my fouls, fouling in the backcourt and making not-smart decisions.”
GodBold isn’t the only player making questionable decisions on fouls. Crawford and Smith have both been guilty of perimeter fouls as well.
“We should be more aware and conscious of what’s going on as a team (on the defensive end),” GodBold said. “Talking to each other ahead of time is something we don’t do very often on fouls, but it’s something we’re going to work on.”
The Illini accumulate less fouls in their Buzz defense, so Bollant often switches to that when players accumulate a large number of fouls in man-to-man coverage. He said that he has played Buzz more than he likely would have if he had more depth.
Bollant also has let his players continue to play with two fouls in the first half because of a lack of depth. Many coaches deem this approach too risky because they want their players to be available in the closing minutes of the game; players many times end up recording three first-half fouls, limiting the players in the second half.
Illinois’ loss to Northwestern was the latest example of foul trouble putting an Illinois lead in jeopardy.
With 2:00 left and Illinois leading 58-56, GodBold recorded her fifth foul, joining Smith and Penn on the bench. After the foul, the Wildcats went on a 6-0 run to finish with a 62-58 victory.
Johnathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @jhett93.