Women's basketball beat writer Jeff Huth breaks down today's WNIT game between Illinois and Toledo:
Illinois at Toledo, 6 p.m. today
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 6.6
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 12.2
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 12.5
G Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 16.6
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 19.0
FYI: Crawford and Penn have recorded at least one steal in every game this season.
OFF THE BENCH
G Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 4.7
F McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 1.5
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.4
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Naama Shafir Sr. 5-7 12.9
G Andola Dortch Jr. 5-7 10.7
F Lecretia Smith Sr. 5-9 5.8
F Inma Zanoguera So. 5-10 10.1
C Yolanda Richardson Sr. 6-2 9.4
FYI: Zanoguera scored a career-high 24 points in a 61-43 second-round victory against Youngstown State. Her previous high was 19.
OFF THE BENCH
C Brianna Jones Jr. 6-2 4.0
F Kyle Baumgartner Sr. 6-3 3.8
G Stephanie Recker So. 6-0 1.5
Site: John F. Savage Arena (7,300), Toledo, Ohio
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Internet: Live stream at www.utrockets.com/liveEvents/liveEvents.dbml; no fee.
Series: First meeting
FYI: Toledo is 15-1 at home this season; Illinois is 6-4 in true road games.
JEFF HUTH'S STORYLINES
Toledo does it with defense. The Rockets rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense (51.5 points per game), 12th in field goal percentage defense (34.5) and 26th in turnover margin (plus-4.41 per game). Nineteen teams have failed to score 50 points against Toledo this season. “They’re very good defensively,” UI coach Matt Bollant said. “So many teams that we face just sag, sag, sag ... and they force some turnovers with how they play. They’re really good on the ball. They pressure the ball hard and make it tough.” Junior guard Andola Dortch is the Rockets’ defensive ringleader, having earned her second straight Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year award. Dortch is the fourth player in MAC history to earn that award multiple times.
Illinois and Toledo never have played, but the Rockets are no strangers to Bollant. Last season, his final Wisconsin-Green Bay team won a pair of regular season games against Toledo. In the second meeting, UWGB ended the Rockets’ 21-game home winning streak. Toledo returns three starters but had to replace two others who combined for 152 of its 216 three-pointers last season. “They’re a little bit different (this season),” Bollant said. “At that time, they had two really good shooters, and they weren’t quite as physically gifted as they are now ... But they don’t shoot it quite as well (now) as that team. But still a really good basketball team.”
On Monday, when Eastern Illinois committed 22 turnovers in the Illini’s second-round win, it raised the number of such miscues by UI opponents this season to 737. That eclipsed the previous record of 728 held by the 1999-2000 Illini. The current Illini also are on pace to set a school record for average turnovers forced per game, with 23.8. “We’ve been doing it all season, forcing teams to (commit) the most turnovers they’ve had in a long time, so it feels good to be able to set that record,” Illini senior guard Adrienne GodBold said. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year tips her hat to the role that Illini perimeter defenders Alexis Smith and Ivory Crawford have played in the team’s Buzz defense — a hyper-aggressive trapping zone. “They get the tips, and me and Karisma (Penn), Amber (Moore), we get the steals,” GodBold said. “Those tips don’t get on the stat sheet, but it plays a big role in what we do.”
PREDICTION: Illinois 64, Toledo 63
The Illini have yet to put a complete game together in the WNIT, so this pick is playing with fire. That, and the fact Toledo has won 29 games and virtually never loses at home. Tough to get a true read on the Rockets, however, because of their competition. WarrenNolan.com pegs Toledo’s strength of schedule at 188th out of 345 Division I teams (by comparison, Illinois is 44th). Illinois can match, or exceed, Toledo’s athleticism. The question is, can they match, or exceed, the Rockets’ intensity? (N-G record: 20-11)