HQ prediction: Michigan 68, UI women 63

HQ prediction: Michigan 68, UI women 63

Illinois at Michigan,
11 a.m. today


Illinois (8-9, 1-3 Big Ten)

Pos.    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Ivory Crawford    Jr.    5-10     15.2
G    Alexis Smith    Jr.    5-9    8.8
G    Sarah Hartwell      So.    5-10     8.9
G/F    Amber Moore      Sr.    5-11      16.4
C    Jacqui Grant      Fr.    6-3    12.8
FYI: Crawford has led the Illini in scoring in the last five games, averaging 21.2 points in that span.
G/F    Taylor Tuck    Jr.    6-0    4.3
G    Taylor Gleason    Fr.    5-8    3.2
F    Nia Oden    Jr.    5-10    1.9

Michigan (12-5, 3-1 Big Ten)
Pos.    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Siera Thompson    Fr.    5-7    13.8
G    Nicole Elmblad    Jr.    5-11    12.4
G    Paige Rakers     Fr.    5-11    6.0
F    Cyesha Goree    Jr.    6-3    11.9
C    Val Driscoll    Sr.    6-4    5.1
FYI: Coach Kim Barnes Arico has used six different starting lineups this season, with nine players making a start.
G    Madison Ristovski     So.    5-10    9.6
G    Shannon Smith     Jr.    5-7    14.5
F/C    Kendra Seto    Sr.    6-1    0.6


Site: Crisler Center (12,707), Ann Arbor, Mich.
Series: Illinois leads 40-28. Last meeting: Michigan 72, Illinois 69 on Feb. 7, 2013, at Ann Arbor, Mich.
TV: BTN — Lisa Byington (play by play) and Brenda VanLengen (analyst)
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play by play) and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: The Illini are 0-3 this season in games televised by BTN.

Jeff Huth’s storylines

Let’s not mince words: the Illini were desperate for a win entering Wednesday’s visit to Northwestern. Losers of four straight — the longest skid in the tenure of second-year UI coach Matt Bollant — and 0-3 in the Big Ten, Illinois was staggering. Then there was the fact that the Illini had yet to win a true road game this season in four tries. In addition, they were entering a gym where the Wildcats were 9-1 on their own court. It wasn’t easy — and it wasn’t decided until Illini guard Alexis Smith stole the ball as time expired — but Illinois dug deep to pull out a 76-74 victory. “Really big,” Bollant said afterward. “That first one’s always the hardest and it takes a lot of pressure off. I give a lot of credit to our kids. They’ve really fought hard. It hasn’t been easy — we’ve played a tough schedule — but they’ve been resilient and they’ve kept fighting.”

Perhaps no Big Ten team has flown under the radar more than Michigan. Following a season in which they tied the program record for victories (22) and made their second straight NCAA tournament appearance, the Wolverines lost four starters and their top five scorers. With lone returning regular Nicole Elmblad joined by only four other players who appeared in a college game last season, Michigan was expected to be in transition mode. Yet, here the Wolverines are — seven games above .500 and tied for second place at the one-quarter mark of the Big Ten race. Michigan’s most recent victim was No. 22 Purdue on Wednesday, a victory that improved its record in true road games to 5-0. After a slow start, the Wolverines have won 11 of their last 14 games, with the losses coming against current No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 14 LSU (by two points) and a Michigan State team that leads the Big Ten at 4-0.

Sarah Hartwell was back in the starting lineup Wednesday and responded with one of her best offensive performances as an Illini. The redshirt sophomore transfer from Georgia Tech produced 15 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes while going 3 for 4 on three-pointers and 4 for 4 at the foul line. Hartwell had lost her spot in the lineup the previous two games, and was virtually invisible in that span, going scoreless in a combined 28 minutes. But she made her presence felt in the victory against Northwestern, particularly during crunch time. Hartwell’s three-pointer with 2:39 left gave Illinois a 74-69 lead, and after the Wildcats drew within 74-72, she hit two free throws to provide some breathing room. “Sarah Hartwell knocking down a three and then made some free throws for us, great to have her back in the starting lineup, which was huge,” Bollant said.

Prediction: Michigan 68, Illinois 63

The Illini defense had better be on guard because the Wolverines can shoot. Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. Conversely, Illinois ranks last in the league in field goal percentage defense and seventh in three-point percentage defense. The Wolverines also enter with the No. 1 rebound average margin in the Big Ten: plus-9.3. Illinois is last at minus-6.8. In the unpredictable Big Ten, an Illini victory wouldn’t come as a surprise, but Michigan has the more impressive resume to date. (N-G prediction record: 15-2).


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