Preview: Illini vs. Michigan State
No. 24 Michigan State
7 p.m. Wednesday
Illinois (9-13, 2-7 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ivory Crawford Jr. 5-10 15.2
G Alexis Smith Jr. 5-9 8.4
G Sarah Hartwell So. 5-10 8.2
G/F Amber Moore Sr. 5-11 15.5
F Nia Oden Jr. 5-10 1.9
FYI: Crawford has 12 steals in her last two games. She ranks fourth in the Big Ten in steals per game (2.3) and third in conference games (2.9).
OFF THE BENCH
G/F Taylor Tuck Jr. 6-0 3.7
G Taylor Gleason Fr. 5-8 3.4
F Sarah Livingston Fr. 6-2 3.3
Michigan St. (15-7, 7-2 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tori Jankoska Fr. 5-8 12.1
G Klarissa Bell Sr. 5-11 9.0
G Aerial Powers Fr. 6-0 13.8
F Annalise Pickrel Sr. 6-3 13.2
F Becca Mills Jr. 6-4 8.8
FYI: Jankoska filled the stat sheet in Sunday’s victory against Purdue, producing 15 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals in 34 minutes.
OFF THE BENCH
G Kiana Johnson Jr. 5-7 8.4
G Branndais Agee Fr. 5-11 5.2
C Jasmine Hines Jr. 6-3 3.7
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
Series: Michigan State leads 36-27. Last meeting: Illinois 61, Michigan State 51 on Jan. 23, 2014, at East Lansing, Mich.
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
FYI: The Illini still are looking for their first Big Ten home win of the season. They’re 0-5 versus conference foes at SFC.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
1 Freshman Jacqui Grant, who played a major role in the Illini’s 61-51 victory Jan. 23 at Michigan State, won’t be available for tonight’s rematch. Or, for that matter, for as many as the next two weeks. Illini coach Matt Bollant learned Tuesday that his starting center has been diagnosed with mononucleosis. Bollant said the team’s leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer is projected to be sidelined for “one to two weeks.” Grant produced a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) in the Illini’s first meeting against the Spartans. However, there were indications Sunday that something might be physically wrong with Grant after she scored a season-low four points in 27 minutes during the 77-58 loss to Indiana. Afterward, Bollant revealed that Grant had tried to play while not feeling 100 percent. “Jacqui would be the first one to tell you there’s no excuses, but she had a sore throat and wasn’t feeling well,” the UI coach said.
2 Grant might not be the only regular who isn’t in the Illini starting lineup tonight. Without naming names, Bollant strongly hinted Tuesday that there could be a new look to the starting five. “I don’t want to tell you what we’re doing yet, but we’re probably going to make a change or make some changes for (today), and you’ll see some differences with our team,” he said. Bollant is looking in particular for improved defense. During his team’s current three-game losing streak, Illinois has yielded 80, 90 and 77 points. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. “What we told our team (this week) is you’re going to defend and you’re going to play with energy in order to play,” Bollant said.
3 Here’s one thing the last-place Illini have in common with Big Ten leader Penn State: They’re the only conference teams to defeat Michigan State this season. Last month’s 10-point victory at East Lansing, Mich., undoubtedly ranks as Illinois’ most impressive win of a disappointing season. How did the Illini do it? Bollant points to solid ball security (13 turnovers), smart shot selection and playing one of the Big Ten’s top rebounding teams to a near standoff on the boards. Illinois, which ranks last in the Big Ten in rebounding, was outrebounded 41-37 — including 11-9 on the offensive boards — that night. “We took care of the basketball,” Bollant said. “We got good shots throughout the game. We limited them on the boards, which they’re really good on the offensive boards, and we did a fairly decent job on that.”
Michigan State 74, Illinois 65
Since these teams last met, the Spartans are 3-0, are back in The Associated Press Top 25 after a nine-week absence and are coming off their third victory against a ranked opponent (then-No. 19 Purdue) this season. Teams with inside size and strength have been a tough matchup for the Illini, which made their Jan. 23 victory against Michigan State as surprising as it was impressive. Look for a Spartans team eager to prove it’s better than it was on that night to show up in this rematch. (N-G prediction record: 17-5)