Women to face St. Louis at the United Center

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

Women’s basketball will take its game on the road as it prepares for its annual trip to the United Center against Saint Louis on Saturday.

The Illini are 3-2 after a 57-43 win against Northern Illinois on Tuesday night in which they jumped out to 7-0 lead, but then missed 19 of its last 23 shots in the first half.

“We’ve worked on our offense, but also our consistency and intensity level,” said Illini associate head coach Marsha Frese.

In Tuesday’s win, freshman guard Lori Bjork continued her outstanding early play this season scoring 20 points, including four three-pointers. She is currently the Illini’s leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game.

Bjork attributes her early success to hard work and the confidence that her teammates and coaches have in her.

Also adding to the Illini offense was senior guard Janelle Hughes. She scored all 13 of her points in the second half, but that was not good enough for her.

“I would’ve liked to have started earlier in the game, but I became more aggressive in the second half,” Hughes said.

One member of the Illini who is struggling so far this year is junior forward Erin Wigley. She has been plagued by back trouble in the preseason and estimates her back at being at 85-90 percent healthy. Wigley is currently shooting 34 percent on the year after shooting 43 percent last season.

“She feels a responsibility to help this team, and we’ve been happy with her intensity and just needs to relax a little bit,” Frese said.

Saint Louis (1-3) comes into the game with a first-year coach in Shimmy Gray. The Billikens lost their most recent game 80-71 against Youngstown State in its first road game.

The Billikens were led by junior guard Tyler McIlwraith who scored a career-high 20 points in the game. As a team the Billikens hit 11 three-pointers, but blew a 10-point lead in the second half.

The Billikens are led by junior guard Rachel Diener who is averaging 15 points so far this season. Two other players, McIlwraith and sophomore guard Hayley Leake, are also averaging in double figures, with 13.5 and 10.8 points per game, respectively.

The Illini won last year’s game at the United Center 74-31 over Pacific and are 3-2 at the United Center since playing there annually during the 2000-2001 season. The past two seasons, the Illini have defeated their opponents at the United Center by an average of 38.5 points.

“It’s always nice to get back and play in front of family and friends,” Hughes said.