Women aim for win, consistency in opener

By Derek Barichello

So far, the season has been like a week-long roller coaster ride for the young Illini women’s basketball team.

The Illini are hoping for a more pleasant ride when they host Northern Illinois in their home opener at Assembly Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The team started high with a lopsided win at Loyola, suffered a low with an upset loss to Northern Colorado, regained its confidence with another blowout victory against Utah State, and saw the wheels come off in a 71-47 loss to Northern Iowa.

Illinois shot just 39 percent on the road trip and made 19 fewer three-pointers than its opponents.

Head coach Theresa Grentz said that is expected with a young team.

“They are going to be inconsistent,” Grentz said.

But it has been tough for the upperclassmen who are upset with the lack of results.

“We expected to be 4-0, and we had some upsets,” junior forward Erin Wigley said. “We’re still trying to find our rhythm and develop our chemistry.”

Despite the season not going the way the Illini would like, they have already developed an identity as a blue-collar team.

“I like how we don’t give up when things are going bad,” Wigley said. “We’re a young team, but we’re still going to battle with people.”

Grentz is confident from seeing her team’s work ethic that all the team needs is time to improve.

“In practice, we’ve been working on going from offense to defense and defense to offense,” Grentz said. “They’ve been intense at practice. They’re a good group, and I think they can move in a positive direction.”

An early positive for the Illini has been the strong shooting from freshman forward Lori Bjork. She was named to the all-tournament team last week in the Coors Classic, averaging 14 points and shooting 58.3 percent from three-point range.

“The team really encouraged me to shoot the basketball,” Bjork said. “They were supportive of me offensively, but you never know how it’s going to go down. The opportunity was there, so I took advantage of it.”

The Illini are hoping to capitalize on an expected increase in attendance due to a men’s basketball watch party held at the arena after the game. The team moved the game time two hours earlier to accommodate fans of both teams.

“We’re especially excited,” Bjork said. “We should have a great crowd with people coming to the men’s basketball watch (party) after the game. It will be fun.”

Northern Illinois is in a similar situation as the Illini. They are 1-3 coming into tonight’s contest.

The Huskies most recently lost its third straight to Illinois State 60-50 last Saturday. The Huskies fell to Western Illinois 50-34 on Nov. 22 and UW-Green Bay 73-67 in overtime on Nov. 20, and defeated North Dakota State 67-62 in its opener on Nov. 18.

The Huskies have had trouble handling the ball, recently committing 21 turnovers against Illinois State.

Grentz said the Huskies run a triangle offense and like to get the ball inside to their post players.

Sophomore center Kristin Weiner will present a formidable challenge inside. She averages 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.

The Illini cannot get complacent on the perimeter because the Huskies’ leading scorer is junior guard Stephanie Raymond, who will not hesitate to fire up a three. She is averaging 13.5 points and is shooting 63.6 percent from downtown.

“We’re going to have to defend their inside game,” Grentz said. “We’ll do what we need to do and kick it out and run.”