HQ women's hoops prediction: UI 70, Wisconsin 69
Wisconsin at UI, 7 p.m. today
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 9.6
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 13.5
G Alexis Smith Jr. 5-9 8.1
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 18.8
C Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 12.8
FYI: Seven different players have led the team (or tied for the lead) in rebounds through 13 games.
OFF THE BENCH
G/F Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 4.8
C Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 4.8
G Taylor Gleason Fr. 5-8 3.5
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Taylor Wurtz Sr. 6-0 13.8
G Morgan Paige Sr. 5-9 12.9
G Dakota Whyte So. 5-8 7.3
F Jacki Gulczynski Jr. 6-1 8.5
F/C Michala Johnson Jr. 6-3 15.8
FYI: Johnson has averaged 21.3 points in the last three games, including a career-high 25 points on Dec. 13 at Washington.
OFF THE BENCH
G Nicole Bauman So. 5-10 4.7
G Tessa Cichy So. 6-0 2.1
G/F AnnMarie Brown Jr. 6-0 1.5
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
Series: Illinois leads 34-32. Last meeting: Wisconsin 58, Illinois 57 on March 7, 2013, at Hoffman Estates.
TV: BTN; Lisa Byington (play-by-play) and Stephanie White (analyst).
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: Illinois will try to win its first Big Ten opener since the 2010-11 season.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
1. If the Illini cringe at the memory of their last meeting with Wisconsin, it’s understandable.
After building a 10-point halftime lead, sixth-seeded Illinois was stunned by the 11th-seeded Badgers 58-57 in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament last March.
“We’ve been talking about that the last few days,” said Amber Moore, whose three-pointer with 42 seconds left temporarily gave Illinois the lead. “Losing to them in the first round leaves a damper on us, so it’s going to be a fun game.”
This Wisconsin team, however, has multiple new faces.
Starting guard Taylor Wurtz missed all of last season due to injury.
So did reserve wing AnnMarie Brown. Nicole Baumann, then a starting guard, was unavailable during the tournament, too, due to illness.
Now all three are back, joined by 6-foot-3 Connecticut transfer Michala Johnson.
The two-time News-Gazette All-State first-teamer from Lombard Montini ranked seventh in the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding through Wednesday.
“We have to look out for their big,” said Illini guard Alexis Smith, referring to Johnson.
2. Junior guard Ivory Crawford is coming off one of the best games of her Illini career.
Crawford shot 9 of 17 from the field and scored a game-high 23 points in an 82-60 loss at No. 19 Georgia on Dec. 28.
She also matched her career high for steals with five.
“She had a take-on mentality, and that’s exactly what we needed,” Smith said. “She always competes, she always fights, and so it’s always great to go to battle with her because you know she’s always going to have your back.”
It was a bounce-back game for Crawford, who shot 2 of 9 and scored five points in a foul-shortened 17 minutes against Tennessee-Martin seven days earlier.
“I’ve got to be more consistent,” said Crawford, the Illini’s No. 2 scorer and No. 3 rebounder for the season. “I don’t know what got into me (at Georgia), but I felt like if it’s time to step up to the plate, it’s time to step up.”
UI 70, Wisconsin 69
Confidence is not high in this prediction, particularly because Johnson appears to be an awfully tough matchup for the Illini.
We’re ultimately swayed by the fact that Illinois plays better at home (6-0), but not so much by the revenge factor.
In a 40-minute (or longer) game, that motivation carries a team only so far.
Rebounding deficiencies likely will be an issue with this Illini team all season so they’ll have to make it up by turning over the Badgers. (N-G prediction record: 12-1).