Jenna SmithWhen North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow lost her on and off, 21-year battle with cancer, NC State lost a coach. But even more, the basketball world lost a hero. As close friends of Yow have paid tribute to her life and coaching career, they have all remembered her as a true inspiration, often referring to her relentless fight both on and off the court. To those inspired by Yow, the NC State coach was one never willing to go down without a fight.

Illinois women’s basketball coach Jolette Law is one of the many that made sure to remember Yow on Sunday beginning with a moment of silence just prior to tip off of the Fighting Illini’s Big Ten Conference home game against Indiana. Law was recruited by Yow as a player, and though she chose to attend Iowa, said that Yow has been nothing short of an inspiration.

In situations like this it is all too easy to voice condolences of how inspiring a coach, mentor or leader was, even if that person provided no more than a minimal personal impact. Law’s words, however, are sincere. Her sincerity, emotion and desire to fight and compete regardless of the circumstance is relayed very clearly in only a few minutes of listening to her speak.

The Fighting Illini had only won four games prior to Sunday and was winless in conference play. A home game against the conference-leading Hoosiers set up what could have been a disappointing end to an already emotional weekend for Law.

No matter how many times Law has preached to her players the importance of never giving up and continuing to fight despite how big the margin of defeat might be, the Fighting Illini just couldn’t put together a complete game. When asked following a 10-point home loss to her alma mater, Iowa, what the tone was like in the closing moments of the game, rather than giving in to a canned answer of “we were almost there” or “we’re improving” she gave the heartfelt response of, if there was one more minute, she liked her team’s chances of leaving the Assembly Hall with a win. But that was against Iowa. Sunday’s game was against Indiana.

Every team wants to make history, but Law challenged her team before the game to not be on the wrong side of history. One more loss would set a program record for consecutive losses in a season. The Illini trailed surprisingly only by two at halftime. And a team that had struggled to put up 40 points in a single game went on to outscore the Hoosiers 41-30 in the second half for a 61-52 win. The win was the first in the conference for Illinois and only the second for Indiana.

The point isn’t one of wins and losses, losing streaks and winning streaks, or even David knocking off Goliath. It is a first-hand account of the sports cliché that anyone can be beaten on any given day. Don’t give up. And if you never give up a fight that you are determined to win, it someday will happen. Even if it takes a bit longer than what is desired, the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and victory will ultimately trump the feeling of defeat by never trying.

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