No. 21 Illinois (7-5, 1-1 Big Ten) at Indiana (8-6, 0-2 Big Ten), 6 p.m. today
No. 21 Illinois at No. 13 Purdue (11-2, 2-0 Big Ten), 7 p.m. Saturday
Setting the scene: The Illini make their first Big Ten road trip, heading east to the Hoosier State. Illinois has played three matches on opponents’ home courts so far, going 2-1. The most impressive performance was the five-set win at then-No. 6 Texas on Sept. 14. As the 2011 NCAA runner-up Illini learned, however, even the best of teams have reason to be wary when venturing on the road in the Big Ten. Three of that UI team’s four conference losses came away from Huff Hall. With a young squad this season — four regulars are either sophomores or redshirt freshmen — the task of winning Big Ten away matches figures to be even more challenging for these Illini. But UI coach Kevin Hambly likes how his team has responded so far. “We’ve played a tough road schedule to try to get ready for that,” he said. “Cincinnati was tough at home. Everyone plays better at home so they played great there. Texas was a great environment. ... Dayton was brutal. I mean, it was a little sweat box and it was packed and it was crazy in there.” ... Illinois has dominated the all-time series with Indiana 56-16, including wins in eight of the last nine meetings. The Illini-Purdue series has been far tighter, with the UI holding a 42-34 edge. Illinois and the Boilermakers have split their last four meetings, with the home team winning in four sets each time. ... The Illini-Purdue match will be shown live on the Big Ten Network. ... Junior libero Jennifer Beltran needs 11 digs to tie Mary Coleman (1995-98) for third place on the UI career list. Beltran enters tonight’s match with 1,382 career digs. ... Although the Illini rank 31st in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in blocks per set, that hasn’t prevented opponents from hitting .238 — the highest figure in the conference. Hambly views the blocks statistic as telling only part of the story since it only reflects points scored on blocks. He’s still looking for his team to become more effective at deflecting shots that can be dug up by the Illini and converted into attacks. Hambly pointed to last Friday’s three-set loss, in which Illinois outblocked Minnesota 9-5.5 but still saw the Gophers hit .375. “We outblocked Minnesota by a ton, but they hit a ridiculous figure against us,” he said. “You have to look at deflections, so when you get your hands on the ball, a ball comes up and you get a swing on that. You want to create a lot of swings and get a lot of opportunities to score.”
The scoop on Indiana
Coach: Sherry Dunbar (sixth year, 89-90)
Players to watch: Jr. OH Jordan Haverly; Sr RS Kelci Marschall; Sr. MB Samantha Thrower
About the Hoosiers: Since opening the season 4-0, Indiana has lost six of its last 10 matches. The Hoosiers started their Big Ten schedule with road losses against Michigan and Michigan State, winning one set on the trip. ... Two years ago, Indiana advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, its best postseason finish ever. Then graduation losses and a key injury took a mighty toll last season, the Hoosiers tumbling to 9-23, including 1-19 in the Big Ten. Haverly, who led Indiana’s Sweet 16 team in kills and service aces, missed all of the 2011 season with a severe knee injury but has picked up where she left off. The Rockford area native ranks seventh in the Big Ten in kills per set and points per set. ... The Hoosiers roster includes each of the last two News-Gazette All-Area Players of the Year: sophomore middle blocker Morgan Leach of Centennial and freshman right-side hitter Mariah Coleman of Heritage. Leach, who started all 32 matches as a freshman, ranks third on the team in kills per set and blocks per set. Coleman has yet to play and is expected to be redshirted. ... Senior setter Whitney Granado, who missed the first 12 matches due to illness, returned to action last weekend. But the Hoosiers haven’t been hurting in her absence. Freshman setter Katie Gallagher ranks third in the Big Ten in assists per set. Dunbar has indicated she plans to play both setters. ... Thrower was the top blocker in the conference with 1.43 per set. ... Six of the 15 players on the Hoosiers’ roster are from Illinois — two more than from Indiana.
The scoop on Purdue
Coach: Dave Shondell (10th year, 202-110)
Players to watch: Jr. L Carly Cramer; Fr RS Annie Drews; Sr. OH Ariel Turner;
About the Boilermakers: Purdue will look to stay undefeated in the Big Ten and extend its winning streak to seven when it plays host to Northwestern on Friday night. The Boilermakers are tied with Penn State and Minnesota atop the Big Ten standings, but they had to work hard to finish the league’s opening weekend 2-0. Their victories against then-No. 25 Michigan State and Michigan each went five sets.. ... Purdue is 2-2 against ranked opponents, with victories against Northern Iowa and Michigan State and losses to Washington and Louisville. Northern Iowa has since dropped out of the Top 25. ... The Boilermakers, who advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2011, were picked to finish third in the Big Ten coaches’ preseason poll. ... Purdue has one of the nation’s premier talents in Turner, a 2011 first-team All-American and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. She ranks fifth in the Big Ten in kills per set, fourth in points per set and sixth in service aces per set. ... Two Boilermakers were recognized by the conference Monday in its weekly awards. Cramer was selected Defensive Player of the Week after averaging 4.7 digs per set and committing one error in 55 service receptions. Drews was named Freshman of the Week. She averaged 2.4 kills and 1.1 blocks, and hit .439 in 41 swings. ... Under Shondell, Purdue has developed a reputation as one of the league’s top defensive teams, and this season is no different. The Boilermakers are third in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage, fourth in digs per set and fifth in blocks per set.
— Jeff Huth