Illinois at Ohio State, 6 p.m. Thursday
Illinois (9-11, 2-5 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 15.3
G Alexis Smith Jr. 5-9 8.7
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 8.6
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 15.7
C Jacqui Grant Fr. 6-3 13.4
FYI: Crawford recorded her second career double-double — and first since her freshman season — with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds Monday against Purdue.
OFF THE BENCH
G/F Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 3.9
F Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 3.5
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 2.1
Ohio State (13-10, 3-4 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Cait Craft So. 5-8 8.8
G Ameryst Alston So. 5-9 16.7
G Amy Scullion Jr. 6-0 3.1
F Martina Ellerbe Sr. 6-2 8.8
C Darryce Moore Sr. 6-2 8.8
FYI: Craft has hit at least one three-pointer in 19 games, including nine games with multiple treys.
OFF THE BENCH
G Raven Ferguson Jr. 5-11 9.8
G Maleeka Kynard Jr. 5-7 4.6
C Ashley Adams Sr. 6-5 6.4
Site: Value City Arena (19,500), Columbus, Ohio.
Series: Ohio State leads 45-19. Last meeting: Ohio State 64, Illinois 53 on Feb. 28, 2013, at Champaign.
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: Ohio State has averaged 5,029 fans in 15 home games this season and ranks fifth in Big Ten attendance per game.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
1. After the Buckeyes lost a stellar starting backcourt to graduation and replaced its coach, outside expectations for a team in transition weren’t high entering this season. But Ohio State, under former Washington and Xavier coach Kevin McGuff, is proving it can be a handful on any given night. Just ask No. 19 Purdue, which lost by 11 points to the Buckeyes in a Big Ten opener. Or check with No. 20 West Virginia, which lost a season opener on its home court to Ohio State. The Buckeyes hang their hat on defense, ranking third in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (36.2). They’ve held 16 opponents under 40 percent. On the flip side, Ohio State ranks 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, but that could partially be a function of its often-deliberate pace. Following the departures of All-Big Ten first-teamer Tayler Hill and fellow Big Ten All-Defensive Team pick Amber Stokes, Buckeyes sophomore Ameryst Alston has emerged in a big way to at least partially filling a big void. The two-time Ohio Ms. Basketball ranks fifth in the Big Ten in scoring and is averaging 18.0 in league games. “She’s playing great,” Illini coach Matt Bollant said. “Great pull-up and can shoot it, and finishes really well.”
2. Through 20 games last season, the Illini were 12-8 and early in a stretch that would see them win five of six games en route to a final 19-14 record. Entering Game No. 21 this season, Illinois is two games below .500 and hasn’t won consecutive games since Dec. 21. Certainly, some slippage was a strong possibility after the Illini lost honorable mention All-American Karisma Penn and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Adrienne GodBold. Has it been more than Bollant anticipated? Here’s how the second-year Illini coach answered: “We just had a lot of unknowns. Graduated two great players, and it’s hard to know where you’re going to be at. You look at the returning players and feel you need them to grow and develop (after) losing two as good players as we had.”
3. Monday night at State Farm Center, Illini guard Sarah Hartwell took the worst of a collision with a Purdue player. The redshirt sophomore was helped off the court by two teammates and missed the final 61/2 minutes of the game with a bruised left shin. On Wednesday, Hartwell practiced without restrictions and appeared to move at full speed. “I’m feeling fine,” she said afterward. “Just kind of sore. Nothing serious.” Meanwhile, sophomore forward Mckenzie Piper, who was not in uniform or on the bench Monday night, was not at Wednesday’s practice, either. Bollant has not revealed the reason for Piper’s absence from the team, but he said after Monday’s game that he would meet with Piper the next day. Following Wednesday’s practice, Bollant said that meeting took place. He also indicated he would have another “discussion” with Piper later that day. The UI coach has declined to reveal why the Iowa City, Iowa, native isn’t currently with the team, although it appears her modest playing time is the issue. Piper, who has averaged 4.8 minutes in 11 games, had appeared in only three of the previous 10 games before Monday. Bollant indicated he would have more to say about Piper’s status “in another day or two.”
Prediction: UI 64, Ohio State 60
This is the Illini’s fourth road game in five, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Bollant’s bunch — Illinois is 2-1 away from State Farm Center in this span. On the flip side, however, 10 of the Buckeyes’ 13 victories have come at home. This is a dangerous pick because Ohio State is among the Big Ten’s best defensive teams, and Illinois is shooting a conference-worst 39.6 percent. A bad mix for the visitors. So, why pick the Illini? Because both teams have been wildly inconsistent and, well, just a hunch. (N-G prediction record: 17-3)