Beat writer Jeff Huth's breakdown of today's game (2 p.m.)
Illinois (10-7, 3-2)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 8.2
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 13.6
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 12.8
G Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 18.7
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 18.8
FYI: Illinois is 8-0 when holding an opponent to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
OFF THE BENCH
F Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 5.2
G McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 2.6
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.9
Northwestern (8-9, 0-4)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Karly Roser So. 5-10 10.2
F Kendall Hackney Sr. 6-2 14.8
F Lauren Douglas Fr. 6-2 10.6
F Maggie Lyon Fr. 6-1 12.3
C Dannielle Diamant Sr. 6-5 11.6
FYI: Northwestern tried a season-low four free throws last time out, a 67-53 home loss to Michigan.
OFF THE BENCH
F Alex Cohen So. 6-5 3.4
F Kate Popovec Sr. 6-3 3.3
F Devon Brookshire Fr. 6-2 1.8
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Northwestern leads 34-33
FYI: Illini have won 10 of the last 11 meetings in Champaign, a run that started on Feb. 10, 2000.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
It seems counterintuitive that a team with a 4-1 record on opponents’ courts would be 5-5 on its own. Yet, that’s the breakdown for Illinois as it tries for a third time today to win its first Big Ten home game this season. Under other circumstances, the home results might be more concerning to Illini coach Matt Bollant. And certainly he’s not minimizing early-season losses at the Assembly Hall to midmajor foes Bradley and Illinois State. However, Bollant is encouraged by how competitive his Illini have been recently at home against high-quality opponents. In its last three home games, Illinois has beaten then-No. 6 Georgia by 11 points, lost by one point in overtime to current No. 12 Purdue and lost by four to a Michigan State team (15-2) that has received votes in the last seven Associated Press polls. “I think it’s a little bit who we’ve played in the Big Ten and the timing of those games,” Bollant said of his team’s home record. “(The home-road disparity) does look a little confusing, but I think you’ve got to look at who we’ve played.” Of Illinois’ remaining six home opponents, one (Iowa) received votes in the latest AP Top 25.
When these teams squared off 10 days ago, Illinois’ defense dominated in a 65-47 runaway at Evanston. The Illini racked up 24 steals — their most in a Big Ten game in program history — and Northwestern committed 34 turnovers. Bollant fully expects the Wildcats to make adjustments to Illinois’ pressure defense for the rematch. “Our pressure and fullcourt press rattled them a little bit, but who knows if it’s going to rattle them again as much,” he said. “Who knows how much better they’ll be against it. So we’ve got to remember how hard we fought to make that happen and have that same mentality.” That big win against Georgia on Dec. 28 ignited a 4-2 run by Illinois, and defense has been a key component to that success. The UI’s last six opponents have averaged 27.2 turnovers, and five Big Ten foes have averaged 27.4 turnovers against Illinois.
The UI will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX — the law that banned discrimination based on gender in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance — during today’s game. Title IX is widely regarded as the critical impetus for the growth of girls’ and women’s sports in the past four decades. Women who have made an impact at the UI by donating to or by pioneering the way for women in athletics will be recognized. “The opportunities we have are in large part because of Title IX,” said Bollant, in his 16th season as a women’s college basketball head coach or assistant. “How we travel and all the things that we have here, we’re really fortunate to have all those things, and we’re very thankful that other people have fought for women’s basketball.”
Prediction: Illinois 73, Northwestern 60
Since winning their first six games, the Wildcats are 2-9 and have lost their last four. The Illini are going in the other direction, winners of six of their last nine. The pressure’s on Northwestern to show it can handle Illinois’ pressure better than it did in the first meeting. (N-G prediction record 11-6)