Illinois (10-8-3) at Missouri (14-7-0), 6:30 p.m. today
Setting the scene
Janet Rayfield’s Illini are in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season after a strong run that saw them reach the Big Ten tournament title match. The program’s best finish in 11 NCAA tournaments was reaching the Elite Eight in 2004. ... Vanessa DiBernardo, an All-Big Ten pick for a third consecutive season, has picked up the offensive pace. The MAC Hermann Trophy Watch candidate (think Heisman Trophy) has at least one point in five of the past six matches. Also on a roll is Niki Read, who has goals in three of the last five matches. ... Illinois is hard to beat when scoring at least two goals (5-0-1). Credit a steady defense and keeper Steph Panozzo, who has a career-high 97 saves. Leisha Alcia has the school record with 111 saves in 2004. ... Missouri will hover around DiBernardo, who took more shots (69) than any Big Ten player. But she’s not the Illini’s only threat: 11 different players have scored.
While Illinois is surging, the Tigers are slumping. They’ve lost five of their last seven matches, including home games against LSU and Arkansas. ... The Tigers hosted Illinois in an NCAA opener in 2008 — their last postseason appearance — losing in penalty kicks. ... Before their recent slump, the Tigers were hard to beat at Walton Track-Soccer Stadium (8-2-0). ... Alyssa Diggs (eight goals, 17 points), Taiwo Adeshigbin (seven goals) and Abi Raymer (seven goals) are the SEC program’s chief threats. ... Keeper McKenzie Sauerwein has 87 saves and helped the Tigers notch six shutouts.