Women prepare for showdown at Iowa

By Derek Barichello

A lot has changed since women’s basketball first met Iowa on Jan. 2 at Assembly Hall. On Thursday night, the Illini will find out how much has changed when they travel to Iowa City, in a game that will have NCAA tournament implications.

When Illinois fell to Iowa 72-58 in only the second game of the Big Ten season, Iowa left Champaign ranked No. 18 in the country and remained the nation’s lone undefeated team at 11-0.

The Illini left that game 9-2 on the season but was a team still uncertain of its identity.

“That was early in the Big Ten season,” said head coach Theresa Grentz. “A lot of things have happened to this team since then. We’re a different team right now. We are moving to where we need to be and doing what needs to be done.”

Over a month has passed and the Hawkeyes have lost eight of their last 12 and find themselves in a must-win situation.

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While the Hawkeyes sputter, the Illini are playing their best basketball of the season. In their last five games, the Illini have won by lopsided margins against Northwestern and IP-Fort Wayne and took No. 24 Penn State and No. 7 Michigan State to the brink.

“Things have changed since then,” said senior guard Tiffanie Guthrie. “When we played them the first time, our team was still looking for a third scorer and for someone else to contribute. Now our team is more in synch. There is more trust passing the ball to others, that they will know what to do with it when they get it. This team has a lot more confidence now.”

Both teams come into the game tied for sixth place in the conference with a 6-8 record, needing a win to help their NCAA Tournament resumes. A loss would devastate their chances of receiving an at-large bid.

“Every game is important and has its own set of consequences,” Grentz said. “Thursday’s game is very important because it is key to reaching our goals and what we’re trying to do this season.”

With the women playing just two days ago, Grentz said she was not worried about her team’s fitness becoming a factor. She was able to rest senior forward Angelina Williams and Guthrie for most of the second half in Tuesday night’s game.

“I was pleased that the bench was able to step it up for us. They had some good minutes. This time of year morale is high on the team,” Grentz said.

Revenge is not a factor coming into tonight’s game.

“I just remember we should have played harder and we should have won,” Guthrie said.

In the first meeting, the Illini gave the game away in the second half. On Feb. 10 it was deja vu all over again when the Illini lost a 10-point lead to Wisconsin in the second half.

The Illini are looking to change their history at Hawkeye Carver Arena. The Illini are 4-20 all-time in Iowa City and have only won once since 1984.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Illini want to make sure they keep their focus and finish the game strong.

“All I remember from the first Iowa game is the second half,” said junior guard Janelle Hughes. “We cannot let anything happen in the second half like we did in that game. We need to keep our focus.”