HQ forecast: Illinois 82, Minnesota 77

Sneak peek:

Minnesota at UI women,
1 p.m. today

Lineups
Illinois (13-9, 6-4 Big Ten)

STARTERS
Pos.     Name     Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Alexis Smith    So.    5-9    7.4
G    Ivory Crawford    So.    5-10    13.6
G    Amber Moore    Jr.    5-11    12.7
G    Adrienne GodBold    Sr.    5-11    18.2
C    Karisma Penn    Sr.    6-2    18.5
FYI: With five steals Thursday at Michigan, Penn moved past Tauja Catchings (1996-2000) into sixth place on the UI career list. Penn has 212 career steals.
OFF THE BENCH
F    Taylor Tuck    So.    6-0    5.2
G    McKenzie Piper    Fr.    6-0    2.1
F    Nia Oden    So.    5-10    1.8

Minnesota (15-9, 4-6 Big Ten)
STARTERS
Pos.     Name     Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Rachel Banham    So.    5-9    21.6
G    Shayne Mullaney    Fr.    5-10    7.2
G    Sari Noga    Jr.    5-10    6.8
F    Kionna Kellogg    Jr.    6-1    6.9
F    Micaella Riche    Jr.    6-2    12.4
FYI: On Thursday against Iowa, Banham set the Gophers’ career scoring record for a sophomore. Through 60 games, the Lakeville, Minn., native has scored 1,099 points.
OFF THE BENCH
F    Kayla Hirt    Fr.    6-2    7.2
G    Leah Cotton    Sr.    5-8    4.5
F    Katie Loberg    Sr.    6-4    3.2

Details
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN; Mike Wolf (play-by-play), Patricia Babcock-McGraw (analyst), Kara Lentz (sideline)
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Illinois leads 34-24
FYI: Illini have won last three meetings at the Assembly Hall and five of last six in Champaign.

Jeff Huth’s storylines
1 When these teams met Jan. 28 at Minneapolis, Rachel Banham dropped a 37-point salvo on the Illini. It was the highest-scoring game by a UI opponent in more than 11 years — since Lenae Williams of DePaul racked up 39 on Dec. 4, 2001. Over the course of that first meeting, Illinois put different defenders on Banham and switched defenses, “but nothing really worked that well,” Illini coach Matt Bollant recalled Friday. Illinois isn’t the only opponent that has struggled to limit the Big Ten scoring leader, who is on a particular tear lately. In three of her last four games, Banham has scored 37, 32 and 34 points. The 2011-12 Big Ten Freshman of the Year is difficult to contain, Bollant says, because of her offensive versatility. “She’s really good off the dribble in the open court, but then she also shoots a three really well,” he said. “She can get to the rim, draw fouls, so she gets some foul shots as well. Has a great pull-up (jumper) and can score in just about any way.”

2 There’s no doubt that the Big Two in Illinois’ offense is center Karisma Penn and guard Adrienne GodBold. Entering today’s game, they’ve combined for 36.7 points per game, slightly more than half of the team’s scoring average. For fans inclined to look ahead, that statistical breakdown raises this question: Who will the Illini look to to fill the offensive void when the two seniors are gone? One answer appears to be Ivory Crawford. The sophomore guard generally has been a steady points contributor this season, entering last week with a 13.0 scoring average. But Crawford’s game-high 25-point performance Thursday at Michigan — on 9-of-16 shooting — was a reminder that she can be dominant offensively. That’s been apparent as far back as November, when Crawford had games of 32 and 26 points. “We feel like Ivory has a lot of potential to continue to get better,” Bollant said. “She’s capable of doing some great things.” Crawford’s scoring average has jumped from 6.6 points as a freshman — when she averaged 21 minutes in 30 games — to 13.6 this season. Following her big game at Michigan, Crawford rose to 14th in the Big Ten in scoring average. The Chicago native has shown Bollant she can be particularly effective when Illinois is forced into comeback mode, as Crawford displayed against Michigan. “That’s where she’s at her best, where she’s playing aggressively and attacking,” the UI coach said.

3 The Illini will join other women’s basketball programs across the nation today in hosting the “Play 4Kay” pink game. Fans attending the game are encouraged to wear pink to help raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer. (Illini players will wear pink uniforms with orange and blue trim, while the Gophers will be in white uniforms with pink trim). At halftime, cancer survivors and patients will be honored on the court. This annual initiative by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association is named for former North Carolina State head coach Kay Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009.

Prediction: Illinois 82, Minnesota 77
Your friendly neighborhood prognosticator is in a major slump, so don’t bet the kids’ college fund. The Illini managed to pull out a 91-86 road victory when these teams met earlier this season. Now, a Minnesota team that is 1-4 in Big Ten road games and 1-5 in all true road games must repay the visit. We’d be more confident in our pick if Illinois wasn’t 1-3 in conference home games. For one of these teams, something’s got to give today. (N-G record: 13-9)

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