HQ prediction: UI women 67, Northwestern 64
UI women at Northwestern,
8:30 p.m. today
Illinois (7-9, 0-3 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 14.9
G Alexis Smith Jr. 5-9 9.0
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 8.6
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 16.9
C Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 12.8
FYI: Grant has blocked three shots in three of the last six games.
OFF THE BENCH
G/F Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 4.1
C Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 4.1
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 1.9
Northwestern (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Maggie Lyon So. 6-1 13.7
G Christen Inman Fr. 5-10 13.2
G Ashley Deary Fr. 5-4 6.6
F Nia Coffey Fr. 6-1 15.2
F/C Alex Cohen Jr. 6-5 7.1
FYI: Coach Joe McKeown has used the same starting lineup in all but one game this season.
OFF THE BENCH
F Lauren Douglas So. 6-2 10.8
G Meghan McKeown Sr. 5-9 2.4
G La’Terria Taylor Sr. 5-11 0.4
Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117), Evanston
Series: Northwestern leads 35-33. Last meeting: Northwestern 62, Illinois 58 on Jan. 20, 2013, at Champaign.
Internet: Live audio streaming at fightingillini.com/allaccess; Mike Koon (play by play) and Ben Taylor (analyst).
FYI: This is the teams’ lone meeting of the regular season.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
Illini coach Matt Bollant has decided to return guard Sarah Hartwell to the starting lineup tonight and move forward Nia Oden back to her previous role as a top reserve. Oden had started the last two games in a change the UI coach at the time said was designed to bring more energy to his struggling team. He also cited Oden’s strengths as a defender and rebounder. However, following a pair of defeats that stretched Illinois’ losing streak to four, Bollant has reconsidered the switch. “The biggest thing is that Sarah is one of our best players and we want her to be in there,” Bollant said Tuesday night. He also pointed to the 5-foot-10 Oden’s value as a reserve when starting center Jacqui Grant is out of the game. “It helps our rotation, as well, with Nia coming off the bench,” he said. The fact that Hartwell had not adapted well to coming off the bench might also have influenced Bollant. In a total of 28 minutes in two games as a reserve, the redshirt sophomore was 0 for 5 from the field with three assists, but also five turnovers. On Monday, Bollant was asked about the Georgia Tech transfer’s struggles in a reserve role, and he said: “I think Sarah’s going through a little bit of a challenge. I think we’ll see her come out of it, but that’s part of the ups and down of playing in her first year (in a new program), and hopefully she’s going to continue to grow and get better.”
Led by 2013 McDonald’s All-American Nia Coffey, Northwestern is receiving a major lift from its freshman class. Coffey, who helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships, ranks 10th in the Big Ten in scoring and sixth in rebounding. The Minneapolis native twice has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week and in early December was Player of the Week as well. Christen Inman, ranked the nation’s 15th-best prep guard in her senior class by ESPN HoopGurlz, is Northwestern’s No. 3 scorer and is shooting over 50 percent. And Ashley Deary, a Texas first-team all-stater, ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten in assists and steals. Bollant compared the group to the freshman class at perennial power North Carolina, a team the UI played in late November. “They’ve got three outstanding freshmen,” Bollant said. “I can’t imagine there’s too many teams — maybe North Carolina — (the Wildcats) might have the second-best freshman group in the country.”
The Illini’s leading scorer and career three-point record-holder is in an offensive slump. In the last four games, Amber Moore is shooting 15 of 59 from the field, including 7 of 37 on three-point attempts. During this span, Moore has averaged 10.5 points; it was 19.0 for the season before hitting this rough spot. “She just hasn’t shot it real well. I think she got a little bit hurried at times, but she can help us in other ways as well,” said Bollant, pointing to Moore’s six-assist, zero-turnover performance against Penn State last Friday. With the Illini in a season-high four-game losing streak, however, Moore’s struggles have amplified her importance to this team. “We need her to shoot the basketball and need her to make shots,” Bollant said. “That’s really important to our success.”
UI 67, Northwestern 64
Which Northwestern team will Illinois see tonight? The one that nearly knocked off then-No. 18 Nebraska on the road and toppled then-No. 21 Purdue? Or the one that lost by 35 points at Minnesota on Sunday? A strong freshman class clearly has given the Wildcats an infusion of talent, but with youth comes inconsistency. A more experienced Illini team should be hungry for a win. In the unpredictable Big Ten, we’re predicting the first four-game skid of Bollant’s Illini tenure comes to an end. If we’re wrong, we can’t use youth as an excuse. (N-G prediction record: 14-2).