HQ women's hoops prediction: Nebraska 66, UI 64
Nebraska at Illinois, 1 p.m. Sunday
Illinois (7-8, 0-2 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 14.7
G Alexis Smith Jr. 5-9 9.2
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 17.5
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 1.6
C Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 12.6
FYI: Smith, who entered the season with three career three-pointers, has six treys in the last two games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 9.1
G/F Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 4.4
C Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 4.4
No. 16 Nebraska (11-3, 1-1)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Rachel Theriot So. 6-0 12.0
G Tear’a Laudermill Jr. 5-9 8.4
F Jordan Hooper Sr. 6-2 20.2
F Emily Cady Jr. 6-2 13.4
F Hailie Sample Jr. 6-1 6.0
FYI: Cady (16 points, 12 rebounds) recorded her fifth double-double of the season Thursday against Michigan State.
OFF THE BENCH
G Sadie Murren So. 5-8 4.2
G Brandi Jeffery Jr. 5-7 4.2
C Allie Havers Fr. 6-5 4.1
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign.
Series: Nebraska leads 4-3. Last meeting: Illinois 62, Nebraska 52 on Jan. 17, 2013, at Lincoln, Neb.
TV: BTN; Lisa Byington (play-by-play) and Patricia Babcock McGraw (analyst).
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: The Cornhuskers are 1-2 against the Illini in Champaign, with the lone victory dating back to December 1985 on their first visit.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
1. It’s clear that coach Matt Bollant regarded Thursday night’s game against Penn State as a sort of gut-check for his struggling Illini. With Illinois in a 2-5 slide, Bollant spent the days preceding the Nittany Lions’ visit to State Farm Center challenging his team to up its effort and intensity. “We talked about trying to show that we’re all in,” the UI coach said. “That — you know what? — this means something to us. It’s important to us. And let’s start the game by bringing the fight to them and attacking. ... (And) continue to fight and continue to give throughout the game.” A 12-2 run to open the contest indicated his Illini were listening. So did a furious 12-0 rally during the final two minutes that threatened to erase a 16-point Penn State lead. Although the UI fell short in an 82-76 loss, it was the kind of competitive response Bollant sought. “We grew (Thursday night),” he said, “and hopefully we’ll continue to grow.”
2. If the first 10 days of the Big Ten schedule is any indication, fans should expect the unexpected during this conference race. No. 21 Purdue is off to an 0-2 start after losses to unranked opponents. Iowa, which had been ranked for five consecutive weeks, also lost its first two league games. No. 16 Nebraska — the preseason choice of Big Ten coaches to win the conference — lost by 13 Thursday night at Michigan State. And on Saturday, Ohio State handed No. 22 Indiana its first loss after a 14-0 start to the season. The Illini have yet to contribute to the rash of upsets — and only time will tell if they all really should be labeled that — but Illinois threw a scare into Penn State. Now, with Nebraska coming to town, the Illini get another shot at shaking up the conventional wisdom about the league’s power structure. “I think Michigan State and Penn State are two of the most talented teams in our league and physically the most talented, but Nebraska’s really skilled,” Bollant said. “They can really shoot the basketball. They pass it extremely well.”
3. A world record is being targete Sunday at SFC. As part of the Illini’s annual “Pack the House” promotion, the first 2,000 fans will receive crowns. Sure, they’re only made of paper, but Karl Feak promises they’re eye-catching. “Shiny and sparkly,” is how the UI’s assistant director of sports marketing describes them. If all goes as planned, the school will break what Guinness World Records says is the record for most people wearing a paper crown at one event. The current mark is 749, achieved on June 9, 2012, at a village festival in England. So, how did Feak and his co-workers come up with this unusual idea? They went online to the Guinness World Records website, and the entry on paper crowns fit their vision. “We wanted to get something that was kind of unique ... and also would be something that we could accomplish,” Feak said. “We really wanted to make it something that the fans wouldn’t have to go incredibly out of their way to do and still have a fun time doing.”
Prediction: Nebraska 66, Illinois 64
The Cornhuskers haven’t played like Big Ten preseason favorites so far, barely escaping Northwestern and losing by double digits to Michigan State. Presumably, there won’t be any overlooking of an Illini team that won last year’s matchup in Lincoln, Neb., by 10 points. For its part, Illinois should be invigorated and more confident after an encouraging performance Thursday night against Penn State. To be honest, we really are guessing here. At this point, making predictions in the unpredictable Big Ten amounts to an exercise in coin-flipping. (N-G prediction record: 13-2)