Attitude gains please Bollant

ROSEMONT — Prior to taking over the women’s program at Illinois last year, Matt Bollant won 89 percent of his games as a Division I head coach at Green Bay. His Illini program isn’t quite ready to challenge that type of clip, but thanks to a rigorous preseason they’re on their way to playing the type of basketball that made the Phoenix an NCAA tournament mainstay.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth, as much as any team I’ve coached,” Bollant said Thursday at Big Ten media day. “In a month, our toughness has grown, our togetherness has grown and how hard we practice.”

In Bollant’s first year at Illinois, the Illini went 19-14, tied for fifth in the Big Ten and reached the quarterfinals of the WNIT. In their first year playing in a new system, the 2012-13 team wasn’t adept at handling adversity.

“That’s one of the challenges of last year’s team, it just didn’t have great coping skills and the adversity affected us, a loss affected us, something going wrong in a game affected us a lot,” Bollant said.

In Year 2, with a mix of fresh and veteran faces, Illinois has started to turn the corner in that aspect of the game.

“This year, they’re going to have more of those skills. We’ll see how quickly it transitions onto the court. Certainly our practice integrity is way better, how hard they practice,” Bollant said. “Last year when something would go wrong, they’d want to stop and hang their heads, and we’re certainly not doing that as much. We know that’s going to lead to good things on the court as well.”

Veterans like Amber Moore, Ivory Crawford, Alexis Smith and even Sarah Hartwell, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia Tech, have helped change that culture.

“They’ve stepped up in practice and lead by example and doing the right things more than they have last year,” Bollant said. “It’s been good to see their growth and them doing more, and we’ll continue to see other players step up and lead.”

The envelope, please

The Big Ten announced its top three women’s basketball teams and individual honors at Thursday’s shindig:

TOP TEAMS
1. Nebraska
2. Penn State
3. Michigan State

PRESEASON ALL-BIG TEN
Klarissa Bell, Michigan State
Rachel Banham, Minnesota
Jordan Hooper, Nebraska
Maggie Lucas, Penn State
Courtney Moses, Purdue

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Maggie Lucas, Penn State

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