HQ prediction: UI women 73, Ohio State 67

HQ prediction: UI women 73, Ohio State 67

Jeff Huth breaks down Thursday's game between Ohio State and Illinois:

Ohio State at UI women, 7 p.m. Thursday

LINEUPS
Illinois (16-10, 9-5 Big Ten)
STARTERS
Pos.     Name     Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Alexis Smith    So.    5-9    7.2
G    Ivory Crawford    So.    5-10    12.6
G    Amber Moore    Jr.    5-11    12.4
F    Adrienne GodBold    Sr.    5-11    17.5
C    Karisma Penn    Sr.    6-2    19.1

FYI: Through games of Feb. 24, Penn ranked among the nation’s top 33 in scoring average, blocked shots, steals and field goal percentage.

OFF THE BENCH
G    Taylor Tuck    So.    6-0    5.1
F    Nia Oden    So.    5-10    1.7
F    McKenzie Piper    Fr.    6-0    1.7

Ohio State (15-12, 5-9 Big Ten)
STARTERS
Pos.     Name     Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Amber Stokes    Sr.    5-10    9.0
G    Tayler Hill    Sr.    5-10    21.0
G    Raven Ferguson    So.    5-11    6.1
F    Ameryst Alston    Fr.    5-9    6.4
C    Ashley Adams    Jr.    6-5    9.3

FYI: Ohio State shot 50.9 percent from the field Monday against Michigan State, its eighth game this season of 50 percent or better.

OFF THE BENCH
C    Darryce Moore    Jr.    6-2    6.6
C    Aleksandra Dobranic    Jr.    6-4    3.8
G    Amy Scullion    Jr.    6-2    0.8

DETAILS

Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Internet: Live stream on Big Ten Digital Network (link from www.fightingillini.com/allaccess); subscription required
Series: Ohio State leads 44-19. Last meeting — Illinois 79, Ohio State 73 on Jan. 6, 2013, at Columbus, Ohio.
FYI: The Buckeyes have won five of their last seven games in Champaign.

JEFF HUTH'S STORYLINES

1

This could be senior Tayler Hill’s final game against the Illini, and there isn’t a person connected with the UI program who won’t be happy to see the All-American move on. Hill is averaging 25.3 points in her last three games against Illinois and has scored in double figures in five of seven career meetings. Not that Hill is only picking on Illinois; one year after leading the Big Ten in scoring, the Minneapolis native is a close second in the current league scoring race. “I respect her,” Illini senior Adrienne GodBold said this week. “She’s got game.” That game is remarkably consistent. The Buckeyes guard has scored in double figures in 60 consecutive games, the fourth-longest active streak in the nation. With GodBold’s own such streak ending at 18 games last Saturday, the next longest in the conference is 15 by Penn State’s Maggie Lucas. Although Illinois runs a switching defense when it’s in man-to-man, GodBold or Alexis Smith will be responsible for guarding Hill at the start of Ohio State possessions. “A player like that, you have to just play her straight up and ... take space away,” Smith said. “It just has to be a whole team effort. She’s going to make plays; it’s what she does.”

2

The last time the Illini saw Amber Stokes, the Ohio State senior guard was being helped off the court by the team’s athletic trainer after suffering a left knee sprain. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year missed the remainder of that Jan. 6 game as well as the next four. It’s no coincidence, says Illini coach Matt Bollant, that the Buckeyes went 1-4 in that span. Nor is it a coincidence that as Stokes has resumed a heavier workload lately, Ohio State is 4-2 in its last six games. Stokes’ return “makes a huge difference to them,” Bollant said. “Her being out really hurt them. She’s just a great defender. Tough. Athletic. She makes them so much better offensively, too, because she drives it hard, and you‘ve got to know where she’s at. It gives them another weapon on both ends.”

3

It’s Senior Night, with Illinois honoring Karisma Penn, GodBold and Kersten Magrum in their final regular season home game. The ceremony will take place after the contest, including the showing of a highlights video of the trio’s Illini careers. Each will be presented with a framed jersey and photo at center court. In his first year as Illinois’ coach, Bollant has repeatedly noted the role the seniors played in helping to transform a program that went a combined 20-42 the previous two seasons into one now contending for an NCAA tournament bid. “You’re only as good as your seniors, and we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in without their great play and their leadership on and off the court,” he said. “Their willingness to defend and willingness to learn and do the little things (made a difference), as well.”

PREDICTION
Illinois 73, Ohio State 67
Remember all the hand-wringing about the Illini’s 0-3 start in Big Ten home games? Well, since then, the Illini are on a 4-0 run at the Assembly Hall. Keeping that streak going won’t be easy. With Stokes back in the lineup, the Buckeyes clearly are a better team. However, Illinois has more weapons, and the Buckeyes’ interior defense had no answer for a quicker Penn (career-high 34 points; 16 of 17 at the foul line) in the first meeting. The stakes are high for an Illini team that controls its own destiny in the chase for a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament. (N-G record: 17-9)

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