The University of Memphis women's basketball team (3-5) has been looking for a win after starting the season off strong.
Sunday (Dec. 9) was not the day.
The Tigers fell to Illinois (5-4) 73-65 at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. Though the final points and the stat of four straight losses may not show it, the team has shown some improvement since losing two key players to injuries.
Three Tigers scored in double figures. Ariel Hearn set a career high with 18 points, followed by Nicole Dickson with 11 points and seven rebounds. Asianna Fuqua-Bey pitched in 10 points.
In the last three losses, Memphis struggled in the first half. The slow starts have placed the Tigers in a predicament, falling too far behind to make up ground despite second-half fights.
Sunday's game was different. The Tigers fought to stay afloat in the first half, with Hearn leading the way. Trailing 14-10 in the first half, Devin Mack drained her first three to pull the Tigers within one. The Tigers went into the second half down by four (33-29).
With under 1:30 left to play in the game, senior transfer Jamila Ajanaku banked in a three-pointer, followed by a lay-up. The five points was the most she has scored in her short Memphis stint.
Memphis committed 23 turnovers, which led to 29 Illinois points. The Tigers scored 16 points off of 22 Illini turnovers.
Karisma Penn led the Illini with 21 points and nine rebounds, followed by Ivory Crawford with 17 points. Memphis scored 30 points in the paint and 14 second-chance points.
Illinois scored 34 points in the paint and led by as many as 17 points.
Dickson led the Tigers with seven rebounds, two blocks and four steals. Hearn and Dickson each led in assists with three.
Last Friday (Dec. 7), the Tigers fell to a screen-heavy offensive team, the University of Arkansas Little Rock, 56 to 44. Head coach Melissa McFerrin said the team's effort was good.
"I was please with our effort and I thought we played hard," McFerrin said. "They (UALR) just weren't going to let Nicole Dickson get a look at the basket. But that's what Nicole's life is going to look like from now own."
McFerrin said while UALR doesn't do a lot of things offensively, the team does well with what it does do.
"Our two starting point guards are freshmen and they have exactly seven games of college experience behind them. It's going to come slowly but we will get better," said McFerrin.
"It would be great if we could throw some magic dust out and create another player, but that's not going to happen. We've lost our two starting guards and nobody's going to throw a pity party for us. We just have to get better with what we have."
Dickson said the Tigers had a "really good effort" against the UALR.
"Everybody came out and played hard. I felt like somebody was on me at every moment. I didn't have a free breath. It's something I've got to adjust to. We had pretty lackadaisical turnovers and that's something that we can fix."
The Tigers return to action on Friday (Dec. 14) against Alabama A&M at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse, with tipoff set for 7 p.m.