Beat writer Jeff Huth breaks down Thursday's Big Ten tourney game between the Illini and Badgers:
Illinois vs. Wisconsin, 2 p.m. Thursday
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 6.9
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 12.3
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 11.9
F Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 17.3
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 19.4
FYI: With 18 points Sunday at Purdue, GodBold passed 1,000 career points. The senior (1,004 points) is the 25th player in program history to reach the milestone.
OFF THE BENCH
G Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 5.0
F McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 1.6
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.5
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Nicole Bauman Fr. 5-10 7.0
G Morgan Paige Jr. 5-9 16.1
G Tiera Stephen Sr. 5-7 6.2
G Jacki Gulczynski So. 6-1 12.6
F Cassie Rochel Jr. 6-4 7.0
FYI: Rochel has recorded 11 10-rebound games this season, ranking third in the Big Ten behind Purdue’s Sam Ostarello (14) and Penn (12).
OFF THE BENCH
G Dakota Whyte Fr. 5-8 2.4
G Tessa Cichy Fr. 6-0 1.8
F Daria Kryuchkova Jr. 6-3 1.2
Site: Sears Centre Arena (8,470), Hoffman Estates
TV: BTN; Eric Collins (play-by-play), Stephanie White (analyst), Lisa Byington (sideline reporter)
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Illinois leads 34-31.
Last meeting — Illinois 60, Wisconsin 53 on Feb. 18 at Champaign.
FYI: The Illini are 3-0 against the Badgers in the Big Ten tournament, with each win as the lower seed.
JEFF HUTH'S STORYLINES
This will be the teams’ third meeting this season, with Illinois holding a 2-0 edge. Now, as the Illini go for the trifecta, each enters with a firm grasp of the other’s offensive and defensive systems and tendencies. “Certainly, they’re going to know you, and that’s one of the challenges,” Illinois coach Matt Bollant said. “For us, we’ll add an inbounds play or maybe add another set play; do something different with that. But you know what you’re going to get. We know preparationwise what we’re going to see. They know what they’re going to see. And (it’s) just a matter of having your team prepared and how they’re going to respond, and try to put your team in a position to have success.”
One of the Illini’s defensive priorities will be to keep a handle on the dangerous Paige. In games that Wisconsin has won, the All-Big Ten third-teamer is averaging 20.5 points. In losses, Paige is averaging 13.5. Illinois has experienced firsthand how dynamic the junior guard can be. In the teams’ first meeting this season, she had 18 points by halftime. However, Paige was limited to five points the rest of that game and to 14 points in the Feb. 18 rematch in Champaign. Since the first half of the first meeting, the Marion, Iowa, native is 4 of 19 from the field against the Illini. “Not to say that she can’t get loose and get confident and get going again, but I feel a lot better how we defended her the last three halves compared to the first half,” Bollant said.
It’s been a tough season for the Badgers, who enter the tournament on a five-game losing streak. It might have turned out far different if not for injuries and transfers. Diane Nordstrom, the team’s associate director for communications, conservatively estimates Wisconsin lost a minimum of 20 points per game due to personnel losses. The biggest was senior Taylor Wurtz, a 2012 All-Big Ten third-teamer who led the Badgers in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (7.6) last season. After playing the first five games this season, Wurtz suffered a back injury and later underwent season-ending surgery. Wisconsin also is without top reserve AnnMarie Brown (torn ACL in mid-December), sophomore Lindsay Smith (decided to transfer after playing in six games this season); and freshman Makailah Dyer (decided in preseason to transfer). After entering the preseason with 14 players, the Badgers are down to nine. Next season, Wisconsin will add Michala Johnson, a two-time News-Gazette All-State first-teamer from Lombard Montini. The 6-3 junior forward, who originally signed with Connecticut, is sitting out this season under NCAA transfer rules.
UI 64, Wisconsin 57
Yes, the Badgers went 3-13 in the Big Ten this season, but a closer look at the results indicates this is hardly a pushover. Wisconsin’s last three defeats were by margins of two, two and six points, with No. 21 Nebraska barely escaping 55-53. Six of the Badgers’ league losses were by seven or fewer points, and 10 of the 13 defeats were by single-digit margins. Wisconsin doesn’t score much (54.4 in conference games), but the Badgers have been effective at keeping the pace in their favor to give themselves a chance. Five of their last six opponents have been held under 60 points. That won’t matter in this one if Wisconsin doesn’t fare better against Illinois’ pressure defense. In each of two losses to the Illini, the Badgers committed 27 turnovers. (N-G record: 18-10)