HQ prediction: Iowa 78, UI women 67

HQ prediction: Iowa 78, UI women 67

Sneak Peek
Illinois at Iowa
8 p.m. today


Illinois (9-15, 2-9 Big Ten)
Pos.    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Ivory Crawford    Jr.    5-10     15.5
G    Taylor Gleason    Fr.    5-8    4.0
G    Ashley McConnell    Fr.    5-9    0.2
F    Nia Oden    Jr.    5-10    2.2
F    Sarah Livingston    Fr.    6-2    3.5
FYI: Crawford recorded a career-high four blocked shots Sunday. The junior’s previous high was three against Seton Hall on Dec. 9, 2013.
G/F    Amber Moore      Sr.    5-11      15.0
G    Alexis Smith    Jr.    5-9    8.0
G    Sarah Hartwell      So.    5-10     7.5

Iowa (19-6, 7-4 Big Ten)
Pos.    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Samantha Logic      Jr.    5-9    14.4
G    Melissa Dixon    Jr.    5-8    13.8
G    Theairra Taylor     Sr.    5-11    11.2
G/F    Ally Disterhoft     Fr.    6-0    13.1
C    Bethany Doolittle    Jr.    6-4    14.0
FYI: Doolittle has blocked a program-record 84 shots this season. The previous single-season mark was 79 by Morgan Johnson in 2009-10.
F    Kali Peschel    So.    6-1    5.3
G    Alexa Kastanek     Fr.    5-10    4.7
F    Claire Till    So.    6-0    2.4


Site: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (15,500), Iowa City, Iowa.
Series: Iowa leads 49-17. Last meeting: Illinois 74, Iowa 62 on Jan. 31, 2013, at Champaign.
TV: BTN; Mike Couzens (play by play) and Mary Murphy (analyst).
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play by play) and Mike Koon (analyst).
FYI: Illinois is 5-26 all time against the Hawkeyes at Iowa City and has lost seven of its last eight visits.

Jeff Huth’s storylines

1 It’s been two games since Illini coach Matt Bollant shook up his lineup in a major way. His decision to give three freshmen the first starts of their college career hasn’t stopped a losing streak that’s grown to a season-high five games, but Bollant says the primary impetus for the move is being met. “The biggest thing we were looking for was just the effort and the coming in and playing hard,” he said Wednesday. “And I think we’ve done that. ... We did that (Sunday) against Minnesota probably as well as we’ve done it in a long time.” When Bollant demoted three starters, he also indicated that the team’s Big Ten-worst scoring defense was a primary factor. There’s been progress in this area. In the first game with the revamped lineup, Illinois limited Michigan State to 28 points in the second half. Then, the Illini held a Minnesota team that had averaged 71.3 points in its previous nine Big Ten games to 66 points. ”I think we‘ve been better (on defense),” Bollant said. “I think we can always grow in that ... (but) I think the kids know we’re going to stand by what we say and we want you to defend and play hard.”

2 Against Minnesota, the Illini faced an offense that depends heavily on two players: guard Rachel Banham and center Amanda Zahui B., each of whom ranks in the top 10 in the Big Ten in scoring. A diverse and deep Iowa attack presents a much different defensive challenge. Remarkably, all five Hawkeye starters are averaging in double figures in points — and that’s true in Big Ten-only games as well as for the season. Iowa is averaging Big Ten-bests of 80.1 points for the season and 76.9 in conference play. “You have to guard all five,” Bollant said. “They’re all good off the dribble. They can all pass. They can all shoot, and so you really have to be on point (defensively) with all five kids. You can’t rally gap or come off any kids at all. And you have to really guard the dribble because if you need help they’re going to break you down.” Iowa’s unquestioned floor general is Big Ten assists leader Samantha Logic, who on Tuesday was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the third time this season. “She makes them go,” Bollant said. “She gets to the rim and she finds people and she can score. Rebounds well for a point guard as well, so she just does a lot of things.”

3 Lisa Bluder became the winningest basketball coach in Iowa history — men’s or women’s — on Monday. The Hawkeyes’ 90-84 victory against Northwestern was her 270th at the school. With the win, the 14th-year Iowa coach surpassed predecessor and Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer as well as Tom Davis. Second-year Illini coach Bollant previously coached against Bluder’s teams when both were in the Missouri Valley Conference — Bollant as an assistant at Evansville and Bluder as Drake’s head coach. Bollant marvels at the stability of Bluder’s Hawkeye staff. Associate head coach Jan Jensen and assistant Jenni Fitzgerald each have been with Bluder for her entire Iowa tenure. “It’s been really remarkable that they’ve stayed together for that long,” Bollant said. “They’ve done a great job of recruiting and bringing in their style of player and being successful year in and year out.” Bluder is widely regarded as one of the best teachers of offense in the game. “Her teams have always been good offensively,” Bollant said.

Prediction: Iowa 78, Illinois 67

Historically, trips to Iowa City have been a nightmare for Illini women’s basketball teams. And that’s been true even during Illinois’ best seasons. As good as Iowa is on offense, the Hawkeyes can be vulnerable on the other end of the floor. They rank just above the last-place Illini in scoring defense in the Big Ten. If the Hawkeyes have an off night shooting and the Illini can score in the 70s — something Illinois hasn’t done since Jan. 15 — the Illini have a shot. (N-G prediction record: 19-5).