CHAMPAIGN — Count BTN analyst Stephanie White among the admirers of an improved Illinois women’s basketball team and of the job new coach Matt Bollant is doing with the third-place Illini.
“I really enjoy watching them play,” White said Saturday before going on the air for the Illinois-Indiana game. “I always think if you’re in the Big Ten right now, you should be scared of this team because they certainly have the potential to win every night.”
Saturday marked the second time this season White worked a broadcast involving Illinois. As a BTN studio analyst, she also has followed the Illini’s transformation from a team that lost 19 games last season to one that remains on course for an NCAA tournament appearance.
White credits Bollant with being flexible enough to adapt his system in ways that play to the strengths of his inherited players — a number of whom were highly ranked recruits.
“We’re talking about high school All-Americans,” White said. “The cupboard wasn’t bare. I think what he has done is done an outstanding job of understanding their strengths and weaknesses, (and) utilizing pieces of his system that will fit these players without limiting them and limiting him.
“Matt has done such a good job of blending the two.”
Saturday was a significant anniversary in the history of Illini women’s basketball.
Sixteen years ago to the day — on Feb. 23, 1997 — the largest crowd ever to witness an Illini women’s basketball home game showed up at the Assembly Hall. And White was on the court, scoring 13 points and distributing five assists for a Purdue team that defeated Illinois 80-75 in front of 16,050 fans.
Although Huff Hall then was the Illini’s home court, the game was moved to the Assembly Hall and achieved its promotional goal of a sell-out.
“It was a huge difference (in venues), and it was a lot of fun,” recalled White, who was then a sophomore.
White grew up in west central Indiana, earning prep All-America honors at Seeger High School in West Lebanon.
“I have great memories from (the Assembly Hall),” she said. “I grew up right on the border near Danville, Illinois, so I certainly have known about the Illini and the traditions and had great memories of coming here to watch Kendall Gill when I was a kid.”
The Illini drew their largest home crowd of the season for a paid-admission game Saturday. The contest with Indiana attracted 3,088 fans. The only larger crowd occurred on Jan. 13, when a “Pack the Hall” promotion offering free admission drew 4,175. ... Illini senior Adrienne GodBold saw her consecutive games streak for double-figure scoring end Saturday. The forward finished with nine points, ending an 18-game run of 10 or more points that included the last four games of the 2011-12 season. The streak was the second longest in the Big Ten behind 59 in a row by Ohio State’s Tayler Hill. ... Illinois improved to 12-2 for the season when scoring 70 or more points.