CHAMPAIGN – Theresa Grentz is into brainwashing. Not the Jonestown type of brainwashing. Just the positive stuff, like what she's doing with Dawn Vana and the rest of Illinois' freshmen.
They're freshmen, yes. But they're encouraged not to act their age. Depth-challenged Illinois can't afford it.
"You can't play like a freshman," Vana said Thursday after the Illini completed preparations for tonight's women's basketball game at Ohio State. "You have to play more mature, and I think that's what she means. Don't settle for anything. Play with more maturity, more intensity."
Grentz has drilled the mantra into each of the UI's freshmen. Especially Vana, whose playing time and role grew substantially in late November, when freshman forward Cindy Dallas was lost for the season.
The Illini needed important contributions from Vana, and the Maine West graduate has provided them in recent weeks. But Grentz wants more.
"One thing that all freshmen have to understand is that you make your breaks in games by really working your tail off in practice," Grentz said. "A lot of players work hard and have had a lot of scholastic success, but coming to play for the University of Illinois is a whole other ball of wax, and it takes a tremendous focus and maturity.
"And I think she's learning that. The more she learns that, the better off she's going to be because she can be quite a talent."
That's a nice way of saying Grentz wants Vana to work harder in practice.
"All the time. (She says that) all the time," Vana said. " 'Always play harder. Don't settle for anything. It's not that it's not good enough, it's just that you can do more.' "
Lately, Vana has done more. Against Iowa, she had five points in the final five minutes, including a layin with 2:07 to play that put Illinois in front 84-80.
Best known for her passing, Vana has seemed more comfortable on offense in recent games and has looked to create her own opportunities.
"Comfortable? You kind of have to play good all the time," said Vana, who turned 19 Thursday. "It's just the way it has to be. You have to make it comfortable."
Though she is not yet a sought-after offensive option, she normally doesn't have to be, considering the Illini have five players averaging in double figures. But Vana wants opponents to know she's not just taking up space.
"I think I have to play as hard as I can and make something happen, not just go in there and have the defense slack off me because I'm a freshman. I have to make them play me," she said. "I don't want them to think, 'Oh, she's not good, she won't help them.' "
Buckeyes offer test.
Carrying its first three-game win streak of the season, Illinois tonight gets a shot at what might be the Big Ten's hottest team.
Ohio State, which cracked The Associated Press poll at No. 23 this week, is off to its best Big Ten start since 1992-93, when the Buckeyes finished as national runners-up.
The most impressive aspect of Ohio State's string was an 18-point victory over No. 17 Penn State on the Nittany Lions' homecourt.
The game will be Illinois' first in the 19,500-seat Value City Arena, part of the new $105 million Schottenstein Center. The Buckeyes have averaged 6,751 through six home dates.