Southern Illinois at Illinois, 7 p.m. Thursday
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 14.8
G Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 7.8
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 15.3
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 24.0
C Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 14.3
FYI: Hartwell’s 12 free throws (in 14 attempts) Sunday against Alcorn State were nine more than she had in first three games combined.
OFF THE BENCH
G Taylor Gleason Fr. 5-8 8.0
F Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 7.5
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 3.0
Southern Illinois (0-3)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Cartaesha Macklin Jr. 5-6 14.7
G Rishonda Napier So. 5-5 8.3
G Hannah Shores So. 5-7 6.7
F Azia Washington So. 6-0 5.0
C Dyana Pierre So. 6-2 14.0
FYI: Macklin became 28th player in program history to score 1,000 career points Monday night in 79-62 loss at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
OFF THE BENCH
G Mercedes Griffin Jr. 5-9 6.7
C Alexus Patterson Jr. 6-1 4.0
G/F Carlie Corrigan Fr. 5-11 0.3
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign.
Series: Southern Illinois leads 12-10. Last meeting: Illinois 63, Southern Illinois 53 on Nov. 18, 2007, at Champaign.
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, Brian Moline play-by-play and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: Moline will fill in for Dave Loane, who is on the road this weekend for Illini volleyball broadcasts.
Jeff Huth's storylines
Illini point guard Alexis Smith is not expected to be available for Thursday night’s game against Southern Illinois as UI coach Matt Bollant had anticipated.
The junior, who has yet to play this season because of a left ankle sprain, did not practice Wednesday due to continuing pain.
“So I doubt we’ll play her (Thursday night),” Bollant said following practice at the Ubben Basketball Complex. “She’d have to be like, ‘Oh, I feel so great,’ and no pain. And I don’t think even then we’d probably want to test it in a game situation when she really hasn’t tested it in practice.”
Last week, Bollant said it appeared Smith would be able to return by the SIU game. Now he’s hopeful the 2012-13 starter will make her debut in the Cancun Challenge Nov. 28-30 in Mexico.
“We thought it’d be healed by now, and it’s not completely healed,” Bollant said. “Our thought, if we don’t play her (Thursday night), now we give her another three to four days of complete rest, and we should be in a pretty good situation then. I’d be shocked if she didn’t play in Cancun.”
Redshirt sophomore Sarah Hartwell is starting at point guard, with shooting guard Ivory Crawford currently handling backup duties at the point. They’ve combined for 8.5 assists per game.
The Illini will conclude a four-game homestand, longest of the season, Thursday night. The caliber of the competition hasn’t exactly wowed spectators, with Sunday’s 112-28 demolition job on Alcorn State the most cringe-inducing example. That followed victories by 28 and 23 points against teams that were a combined 0-8 through Wednesday. Next up, a winless Salukis team that went 5-26 last season.
There is a method to Illini coach Matt Bollant’s soft early scheduling, however. Having lost his two best players from last season’s team, Bollant saw no sense in opening the year with highly difficult games for a team in transition. Besides, that will come soon enough. Among the Illini’s upcoming nonconference opponents are No. 12 North Carolina, No. 16 Colorado and No. 23 Georgia — all away from State Farm Center.
“If you look at our month of December, we have probably as tough a schedule as anybody around and so we wanted to get off, if we could, to the best start possible,” Bollant said after the Alcorn State game. “And we didn’t have a whole lot of returning starters, so we tried to set the schedule up to build some confidence. (The players) work so hard, if they don’t get rewarded for it ... sometimes you need a game like this to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re doing the right things.’ ”
A familiar face is returning to State Farm Center on Thursday night. Cindy Stein, who played two seasons for the Illini in the early 1980s and served as a UI assistant from 1993 to ’95, is in her first year as head coach at SIU.
The former Illini point guard still owns two of the top five single-season assist totals at Illinois. Remarkably, despite her short tenure in a UI uniform, she also is No. 8 on the current Illini career assists chart. It will be Stein’s considerable task to revive a Salukis program long mired in losing. In the six seasons prior to her arrival, SIU had a combined 39-139 record — once finishing 2-28.
Bollant is impressed with a pair of Salukis sophomores: center Dyana Pierre and point guard Rishonda Napier. “So she’s got a couple of pieces that are already there, which makes it a little easier,” he said. Stein’s previous Division I head coaching experience was at Missouri, where she spent 12 seasons and guided the Tigers to seven postseason appearances, including three in the NCAA tournament. Among the players Stein coached at Mizzou was former News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year LaToya Bond of Urbana, later a second-round WNBA pick.
Prediction: Illinois 80, Southern Illinois 64. After losing by six points at Bradley in the season opener, the Illini should be motivated not to let it happen again against another in-state opponent. (N-G prediction record: 3-1)