Mississippi Valley State at Illinois, 7 p.m. Thursday
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE (0-3)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Joncyee Sanders Sr. 5-8 5.0
G Olivia Kennedy Sr. 5-5 7.3
F Ashley Beals Fr. 6-0 9.0
F A’Shanti Weathers Jr. 5-10 11.3
F Jasmyne Sanders Sr. 5-10 8.3
FYI: Weathers matched her career high with 20 points Tuesday at Northern Illinois.
OFF THE BENCH
C Heather Freeman Fr. 6-3 4.7
F DeRita Silas So. 5-11 3.0
G Christina Reed Fr. 5-10 0.0
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 16.0
G Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 6.5
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 17.5
G Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 22.0
F Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 12.0
FYI: With two games of 20-plus points this season, Moore’s up to 10 for her career.
OFF THE BENCH
G Taylor Gleason Fr. 5-8 7.5
F Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 7.0
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 2.0
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign.
Series: First meeting.
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM (Dave Loane has the play-by-play, and Mike Koon provides the expert analysis).
FYI: This is second of four consecutive home games for Illini.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
No Illini players have bigger shoes to fill than freshmen Jacqui Grant and Sarah Livingston. It’s their unenviable task to succeed Karisma Penn in the post. Penn finished her career last season as the program’s all-time No. 1 shot blocker, No. 2 rebounder and No. 4 scorer. It’s still very, very early, but Grant and Livingston are off to promising starts, combining to average 19 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent. “Between the two of them, I think we’re going to get some production from that spot for sure,” UI coach Matt Bollant said. “Certainly that was a concern with Karisma leaving — just her ability to rebound and score inside, and are we going to be able to get that? And you never know with freshmen how much they’re going to get that. But they are.” Bollant can see scoring versatility in the games of each. “They’re both getting better at sealing and posting inside,” he said. “And both of them are skilled. They can step out and face the basket and shoot the three, and they can step out and pass. And that’s exciting to have that element, especially as freshmen to be able to do those things.”
Slowly but surely, the Illini are getting their walking wounded back. Sophomore forward Mckenzie Piper, who was sidelined first by a concussion and then by an ankle sprain, this week was medically cleared to play. On Tuesday night, Piper made her season debut, playing three minutes at the end of the game against Valparaiso. “She’s still not fully recovered from the concussion, and then she sprained her ankle so she’s having some issues with that,” Bollant said. “I know she’s not where she wants to be yet, but we’re going to try to get her there as fast as possible.” Meanwhile, junior point guard Alexis Smith is making progress in her recovery from a mid-ankle sprain. Smith, who previously had either been on crutches or wearing a protective boot, was given the go-ahead to wear a regular tennis shoe Wednesday. Bollant said Smith was scheduled to work out Thursday on an elliptical training machine and do some running to see how the ankle responds. “And if there’s no pain, I think they’ll move forward with her,” he said. The soonest Smith would return to action, Bollant said, would be Sunday against Alcorn State. “‘If not Sunday, it looks good for next Thursday (against Southern Illinois).”
On the close heels of Tuesday’s 28-point victory against Valparaiso, the Illini will try to build some momentum Thursday night against winless MVSU. The Devilettes are coming off a 79-60 loss Tuesday at Northern Illinois. Thursday night is the fourth of 11 consecutive road games for MVSU to open the season. The team’s long-range shooting potential and dribble-drive skills have caught Bollant’s attention. The Devilettes have produced eight and five three-pointers in two of their games. “There are different kids that can shoot the three, but they’re (also) pretty athletic,” he said. “(They) use the dribble fairly well and have some kids that can go to the glass. They have four or five kids that have made threes, but probably their strength is their ability to slash and rebound.”
Prediction: Illinois 92, MVSU 57
A Devilettes team that’s yielding an average of 87 points will play its fourth game in six days, all on the road. If the Illini don’t just assume a victory and play with energy, they should roll. (N-G prediction record: 1-1).