Illinois at No. 25 Purdue,
3 p.m. today
Illinois (16-11, 9-6 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 6.9
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 12.3
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 12.0
F Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 17.3
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 19.3
FYI: Illinois had one less turnover than Ohio State on Thursday, extending its streak of games of fewer turnovers than the opponent to 15.
OFF THE BENCH
G Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 5.1
F McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 1.7
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.6
Purdue (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G KK Houser Jr. 5-6 11.1
G Courtney Moses Jr. 5-6 13.0
G Dee Dee Williams Jr. 6-0 3.4
F Drey Mingo Sr. 6-2 12.2
F Sam Ostarello Sr. 6-2 9.5
FYI: Ostarello has 10 double-doubles this season, tying for fourth place on Purdue’s all-time single-season list. With 15 career double-doubles, she ranks fifth.
OFF THE BENCH
F Taylor Manuel Fr. 6-2 8.2
G April Wilson Fr. 5-7 5.5
G Chantel Poston Sr. 5-10 3.1
Site: Mackey Arena (14,264), West Lafayette, Ind.
TV: Big Ten Network; Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Stephanie White (analyst)
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Purdue leads 49-17. Last meeting — Purdue 67, Illinois 66 (OT) on Jan. 2 at Champaign.
FYI: Illini will try to improve to 5-1 in games carried by BTN this season.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
Illinois entered the week in control of its own destiny for a top-four Big Ten tournament seed and the first-round bye that comes with it. Now, the Illini could finish as low as sixth place. Or, they could end up in sole possession of third. That’s how quickly things can change and how much uncertainty prevails entering the final day of the regular season race. One thing Illini coach Matt Bollant does know: a victory today would make him feel a whole lot better about his team’s chances of landing an NCAA tournament bid. “I think one more (win) and we probably clinch it,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re (already) in now, but you’re always trying to better your resume, always trying to do more.” Regardless of what happens today, Illinois will finish with a winning record in the Big Ten. Considering the strength of the conference — RealTimeRPI.com ranks the Big Ten No. 2 nationally behind the Big 12 — Bollant says the Illini have made a strong argument to be included in the NCAA field of 64. “But you never know what the (selection) committee looks at, and you’re always trying to do more to further your chances and make it even better.”
The Illini are in the midst of their worst shooting slump of the season, and it’s taken their coach by surprise. “We have shot more in practice in the last two weeks than we probably have all year,” Bollant said Friday, “and I expected them to shoot well last night, honestly. (I’m) disappointed that we didn’t.” Pulled down by a horrid second-half shooting performance (8 of 34), Illinois shot 29.5 percent Thursday night in an 11-point loss to Ohio State. It was the Illini’s second-lowest field goal percentage of the season. And it continued a disturbing trend. In two of its previous three games, Illinois shot 31.8 percent and 33.3 percent. Asked whether he was concerned about his team’s recent shooting struggles, Bollant responded: “Any category that doesn’t go well, you’re certainly concerned about it, wondering what we need to get better. We need to shoot a better percentage.”
Purdue entered February with a 7-1 Big Ten record and legitimate aspirations of challenging Penn State for the conference title. How things have since changed for the Boilermakers. With Thursday’s 68-61 loss to Michigan State, Purdue finished the month 2-5 in league play. Former Boilermaker great Stephanie White continues to closely follow her alma mater in her role as a BTN women’s basketball analyst. In attempting to explain Purdue’s recent struggles, White pointed to how tenuous the team’s 7-1 start was, considering that four of those victories were decided in overtime. “I think they’ve been kind of walking that fine line all season long — taking games that they probably should have lost, and haven’t corrected some of those errors,” White said. In particular, White cited Purdue’s issue with ball security. The Boilermakers rank ninth in the Big Ten in turnover margin (-2.21). In conference games, the margin is -3.47. “I think that they’re a team that turns the ball over too much, especially for a veteran backcourt,” White said.
Prediction: Purdue 68, Illinois 63
A coin-flip game if there ever was one. The Illini are struggling to put the ball in the basket, and they almost never win at Purdue (4-27 all time). The Boilermakers are in a free fall, and their previous magic in close games appears to have waned (last-place Indiana beat them by one point). We’re nervous about this pick because Illinois has shown an uncanny ability to quickly bounce back (9-1 record coming off a loss). It will be critical for the Illini to pressure Purdue into turnovers and then capitalize on the other end. If they don’t, add another Illinois loss in the house of horrors that is Mackey Arena. (N-G record: 17-10)