Illini must win next 4 games for postseason

By Derek Barichello

The goal is simple for the women’s basketball team Wednesday night when Northwestern comes to the Assembly Hall : Win.

The Illini know they have to buckle down if they hope to play in the postseason. After two heartbreaking losses to Wisconsin on the road and former-No. 25 Penn State last week, the Illini will likely have to win their remaining four regular season games to make a case for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“Every game is important now down the stretch,” said senior guard Jer‚ Issenmann. “How we finish will determine if we get to play in the postseason or not.”

The Illini will use their frustration as motivation against Northwestern.

“We are going to take that out on our next opponents,” Issenmann said.

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Despite not showing in the standings, the Illini feel they have played good enough basketball to win.

“I think we had a hard-fought loss to Penn State,” Issenmann said. “In the Wisconsin game we played well but let ourselves down at the end.”

If the Illini win the rest of their games, they would finish at .500 in the Big Ten with an 8-8 record and guarantee a top seven finish in the conference. With the Illini boasting two nonconference wins against formerly ranked UCLA at home and the No. 23 RPI-ranked Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., they would make a good case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

An 8-8 finish in the conference might not be enough, though. Last year’s cutoff point for a berth from the Big Ten was a 9-7 conference record, and the last time the Illini received an at-large bid in the 2002-2003 season they finished 9-7.

Another thing the Illini have against them is a mediocre RPI ranking. The Illini are ranked at No. 77 in the nation and that will likely go down as the Illini finish the season with three opponents under .500.

The Illini have an excellent chance to finish the season strong; they defeated Northwestern and Michigan earlier this season and face 3-18 IP-Fort Wayne at home.

The toughest challenge for the Illini is Iowa, who dropped them earlier in the season in Champaign, 72-58. Since then, the Hawkeyes have lost seven of their last 10 games.

Even though the schedule is favorable for the Illini to make a run, they refuse to talk about the future. The only thing on their minds is Wednesday night’s game. Northwestern has proven they can defeat top competition, upsetting Penn State earlier in the season.

“Every game is important,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “We are only looking at our game versus Northwestern right now.”