Wisconsin at UI women,
6:30 p.m. today
Illinois (14-9, 7-4 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 7.3
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 13.1
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 13.2
G Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 18.3
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 18.6
FYI: Illinois needs one three-pointer to reach 142 for the season and move into a tie for fifth place in program history.
OFF THE BENCH
F Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 5.1
G McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 1.9
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.6
Wisconsin (11-14, 3-9 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Nicole Bauman Fr. 5-10 6.7
G Morgan Paige Jr. 5-9 16.7
G Tiera Stephen Sr. 5-7 6.0
G Jacki Gulczynski So. 6-1 12.7
F Cassie Rochel Jr. 6-4 7.0
FYI: Paige scored a season-low four points Thursday in 58-48 loss to No. 18 Purdue.
OFF THE BENCH
G Dakota Whyte Fr. 5-8 2.5
G Tessa Cichy Fr. 6-0 1.9
F Daria Kryuchkova Jr. 6-3 1.4
Site: Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN; Lisa Byington (play-by-play), LaChina Robinson (analyst) and Kara Lentz (sideline).
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play by play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Illinois leads 33-31. Last meeting — Illinois 64, Wisconsin 56 on Feb. 3, 2013, at Madison, Wis.
FYI: Illinois is 19-9 all time in home games against the Badgers, the third most wins on its own court against any Big Ten opponent.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
1 After a seven-day layoff from competition, Illinois will play three games in six days starting tonight. This hectic stretch includes a trip to No. 8 Penn State, the Big Ten leader, on Wednesday. “It’s definitely going to be tough,” Illini senior center Karisma Penn said. “It’s that time of year where everybody has their bruises, their nicks, so I think the Monday-to-Wednesday turnaround is really a killer. We’re not looking forward to it, but we’ll definitely push it out (of our minds) and play as hard as we can.” Compact Big Ten scheduling is nothing new for Illinois. In late January and early February, Matt Bollant’s team played three games in seven days, including two on the road. The Illini finished that stretch 3-0 for its longest winning streak of the season. “We did it before and had a really good week,” Bollant said, “so we’re entering this week with a positive attitude and hopefully get off to a good start with Wisconsin.”
2 When you think of the positions that are most likely to produce steals, guards and wings immediately come to mind. Centers? Not so much. But Penn continues to break that mold, ranking second among Big Ten players in steals in all games (2.9 average) and No. 1 in conference-only games (3.8). “She’s 6-2 and long and anticipates,” Bollant said. “She’s going to get some steals with those things.” Penn, who would be a power forward on most other teams, is that rare big player with the quickness to defend on the perimeter. And she is asked to do so in the Illini’s Buzz defense — a hyper-aggressive, trapping 2-1-2 zone. “That (center) spot ends up getting a lot of opportunities in the buzz,” Bollant said. “And certainly she’s really good at it as well.” Penn already has set a career high for single-season steals with 67 — five more than her previous high. She also has nine more steals than any teammate this season. Considering that Penn ranks second in the Big Ten in blocked shots (2.4), she should be a strong contender for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. “I take pride in my defense,” Penn said. “Hopefully other people around the league are recognizing it, too.”
3 Ivory Crawford is coming off one of the more memorable games of her Illini career, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The sophomore guard picked up her third foul merely 4 minutes, 56 seconds into the game against Minnesota on Feb. 10. Crawford went to the bench for the rest of the half and ended up playing a season-low 23 minutes in the Illini’s 76-66 home victory against the Gophers. “It’s frustrating because as a starter ... (you have to) take responsibility to be cautious of your fouls,” Crawford said. “Especially us (as a team), we get into foul trouble a lot so we’re trying to contain that habit. That’s a lesson learned for real because I need to be on the floor.” Then there’s Crawford’s unpleasant memory of the bloody nose she suffered early in the second half after stealing the ball from Rachel Banham. During a scramble with both players on the floor, the Gophers guard flung her arm and hit Crawford in the face. The Illini guard, holding a towel to her nose, was forced to leave the game again. It wasn’t all bad for Crawford, however. Having fouled out of five games this season, she avoided doing so against the Gophers, limiting her second-half fouls to one. And although the Proviso East grad finished with a season-low two points, she contributed three steals in the second half. “A lot of players when they sit out the first half (with fouls), they don’t play well in the second,” Bollant said. “They don’t defend, and it’s like they just have a whole bad game. And I thought she helped us in the second half defensively and kept fighting, which was really important.”
Illinois 67, Wisconsin 58
The Badgers have struggled mightily on the road, where they’re 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten. This is a game the streaking Illini — 4-1 in their last five — should win if they’re serious about a Big Ten tournament first-round bye and about keeping their NCAA tournament resume respectable. Illinois has its best Big Ten record through 11 conference games since the 2000-01 season, when those Illini also were 7-4. (N-G record: 14-9).