CHAMPAIGN – Tricia Taliaferro is absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure her slumping Illini can turn it around in two weeks at the Big Ten women's soccer tournament.
Just as long as no one blows out a knee or flips out on a referee between now and then.
Both scenarios popped up recently, costing Illinois in Friday night's 2-0 loss to Iowa. The Illini were without leading scorer Emily Brown – banished to the bench after picking up a red card for her temper tantrum last weekend at Purdue – and second-leading scorer Lisa Baldwin – who dislocated a knee for the second time in as many months.
"Would the result be different with them playing?" Taliaferro said. "I'm not sure. But they bring a certain amount of confidence to the team, and make the other team adjust to them."
Without their top threats to turn to in their Big Ten finale, the Illini were held scoreless for the third straight game. The drought's reached 5 hours, 9 minutes, soccer time.
"One goal would definitely help a lot," midfielder Holly Schurr said. "We need that momentum shifted back to our side."
Illinois (9-6-2 overall, 3-5-2 Big Ten), which was once ranked as high as 15th nationally, finished sixth in the Big Ten and will get a second crack at Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Nov. 4 in Bloomington, Ind.
The next time they meet, Taliaferro expects to have Baldwin in the lineup (she's missed seven of 17 games due to injury) and her offense in gear. The Illini will tune up for postseason play with three nonconference matches – at home Sunday against Illinois State, then next weekend when they visit Colorado College and Denver.
"It's not a matter of us not creating chances," Taliaferro said. "We're creating. If we weren't, I'd be a little bit worried. The scoring part, I think that's going to come. I'm confident it will come back."
"Soon," Taliaferro said. "Sunday."
Iowa, the league leader in scoring, didn't strike until the 59th minute when Linzy Wolman pushed one past Illini goalie Sarah Heggen (eight saves). The Hawkeyes, playing the second half with a strong wind at their backs, struck again 24 minutes later, sending 455 fans home frowning. And freezing.
But Taliaferro wasn't disappointed, calling the effort a big improvement from last weekend and predicting a goal or two sometime soon.
"We keep going up, we're not going down," defender Sue Hodson said. "I think we're going to be ready for the Big Ten tournament."