Grentz focuses on improving defense

Grentz focuses on improving defense

CHAMPAIGN – When Theresa Grentz made up her list of priorities for training camp, it didn't take the University of Illinois women's basketball long to come up with No. 1 on the list.

"I feel we must be able to play much better defense," the third-year Illini coach said.

A year ago, Illinois finished 10th in the 11-team Big Ten Conference in scoring defense. Only Minnesota yielded more points on average than the Illini's 73.1.

"I've always like the match-up (zone) defense, but we've yet to play it well," Grentz said.

Other priorities in the preseason, Grentz said, are improving on shot selection, reducing turnovers and continuing to have more hands touch the ball on offense.

"Early in the season, we did not score a lot off of assists," she said.

Huff just fine

In the wake of last season's sellout of the Assembly Hall for the Purdue game, Grentz continues to face questions about when the Illini will move there full time from Huff Hall.

The UI coach reminded reporters at Media Day Friday the program hasn't outgrown Huff just yet. Last season, only three of Illinois' games at 4,050-seat Huff Hall were sellouts – two of those for NCAA tournament games.

Besides, Grentz said, Huff has evolved into one of the most difficult places in the country for a team to visit.

After Illinois defeated Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Grentz said Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors told her: "There's not enough money to bring my team back here."

And the crowd for that game, Grentz said, wasn't as boisterous as the one that cheered the Illini to an 82-78 victory over Wisconsin on Feb. 21. The win clinched a share of the UI's first Big Ten title.

"I've never worked before a crowd like that," said Grentz, in her 24th year as a head coach. "You could not hear."

No place for complacency

Will the Illini be as hungry this season, now that they've experienced a Big Ten co-title, set a school record for victories (24) and reached the NCAA's Sweet 16?

Grentz said she'll be on the lookout for signs that her team is satisfied.

"You're always concerned, are your players embracing that success," she said. "If they are, that's a red flag."

Early taste

If you've wondered why Grentz would schedule her team to play two 1997 Final Four squads within a span of three days, the UI coach said there is a method to her madness.

When Illinois visits defending champion Tennessee on Dec. 12, then plays host to Stanford on Dec. 14, Grentz said she's giving her team a taste of what the Final Four weekend is like.

"It's preparation for what happens the last weekend of the season," she said.

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