HQ women's hoops prediction: UI 87, Tenn.-Martin 72

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois,
2 p.m. Saturday


Lineups

Illinois (6-5)
STARTERS
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.      PPG
G    Sarah Hartwell    So.    5-10    10.1
G    Ivory Crawford            Jr.    5-10    13.4
G    Alexis Smith            Jr.     5-9        7.7
G/F     Amber Moore            Sr.     5-11    18.8
C    Jacqui Grant            Fr.     6-3      13.5

FYI: Moore earned another Big Ten Player of the Week accolade this season after she scored 22 of her 24 points in the second half to spark the Illini’s rally in their 71-70 win against Seton Hall on Dec. 9. It was the second time Moore, who needs 23 points to pass Krista Reinking for 16th place all time on the Illinois scoring chart, has garnered that accolade from the league this season.

OFF THE BENCH
G/F     Taylor Tuck     Jr.    6-0        5.1
C     Sarah Livingston            Fr.     6-2        5.1
G     Taylor Gleason            Fr.     5-8        4.0

Tennessee-Martin (6-4)
STARTERS
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.     PPG
G      Elizabeth Masengil    Fr.    5-11       7.3
G    Heather Butler    Sr.    5-5     21.3
G     Jasmine Newsome    Sr.    5-6     20.3
G     Katie Schubert    So.    5-11       6.5
F    Ashia Jones    Fr.    6-1       5.5

FYI: Containing Butler and Newsome are the most important assignments for Illinois. Butler — who has scored in double figures in all 106 games she’s played — is the school’s all-time leading scorer, male or female, with 2,324 points. Newsome, who set the school’s single-game scoring record with 44 points against Quinnipiac earlier this season Nov. 16, isn’t far behind with 2,161 career points.

OFF THE BENCH
F     Tiara Caldwell    Fr.     6-2        5.4
F    Chelsea Roberts    So.    5-11      4.1
G    Karisma Tyson      Jr.    5-10      1.6

Details
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign

Series: First meeting

Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)

FYI: Illinois is unbeaten at State Farm Center this season and will try to win its eighth straight game at its home venue dating back to last season. The Illini have not won eight straight at home since winning the last home game of the 2005-06 season and then winning seven straight at home to start the 2006-07 season.

Matt Daniels’ storylines

1. It’s pretty evident Illinois likes to play at a fast tempo. The 88.2 points per game Matt Bollant’s squad is averaging this season indicates that. The Skyhawks like to push the pace, too. Tennessee-Martin is averaging 75.7 points per game, but allowing 77.1. Illinois has been able to force teams into a frenetic pace at times this season, forcing its opponents into an average of 22.6 turnovers. But UT Martin doesn’t necessarily panic, given the experience its backcourt provides with Butler and Newsome. The Skyhawks are only turning the ball over 13 times a game. Something will have to give considering Illinois leads the Big Ten in steals at 12.6 per game, which ranks eighth nationally.

2. Illinois won’t go through another extended layoff like it is coming off the rest of the season. A trip to Georgia greets the Illini next Saturday before Big Ten play opens Jan. 3, with four games in a nine-day span. The added rest, along with the fact the Illini are coming off finals, could do wonders for Illinois, which traveled to Cancun, Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., the last week of November through the first week of December. UT Martin isn’t a stranger to the road, however. The Skyhawks have not played a home game since Nov. 25 and had a 13-day layoff — their Dec. 7 game at Illinois State was canceled because of poor weather — before losing 82-60 Tuesday at Ohio State.

3. Even though Illinois and UT Martin have never met, the Skyhawks have experienced something Illinois has not the last three seasons: reaching the NCAA tournament. Granted, UT Martin had to win its conference tournament championship each year to earn a berth, but the Skyhawks have become a perennial team that plays in March. All three of the school’s NCAA tournament appearances have come with Kevin McMillan, now in his fifth season, on the sidelines. A loss wouldn’t dampen Illinois’ chances of getting a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, but it certainly wouldn’t help. Big Ten teams don’t lose to Ohio Valley Conference teams. Illinois boasts a career 14-6 mark against OVC schools and has won its last five games against teams from that league.  

Prediction
Illinois 87, UT Martin 72

Bollant’s team might show a bit of rust early. That’s understandable because Illinois hasn’t played in 12 days. Moore continues her hot shooting against one of the better OVC teams, and Illinois moves two games above .500 for the first time since coming back from its Thanksgiving tournament in Cancun. (N-G prediction record: 10-1)

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