Tough roads ahead

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

The Illini hit the road again, this time to play 6-1 Florida tonight in Gainesville.

The Illini will get tested in both games as they play the Gators and No. 16 Oklahoma in back-to-back games.

The Illini come into the weekend on a three-game winning streak and have defeated their opponents by an average of 21.6 points per game.

“I think coming off of the Bradley game, this will be a good test for us,” senior guard Maggie Acuna said. “Hopefully we can play our game and come out on top.”

In its last game the Illini defeated Bradley 80-64 in Peoria behind Janelle Hughes’ career high 22 points. That performance followed the 14 points she scored in the previous game against Saint Louis, which the Illini won 75-40 at the United Center on Saturday.

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“She’s coming into her game right now,” Acuna said. “She is getting open and finding open people and is playing with confidence.”

Hughes is now averaging 11.7 points per game and her recent output has helped the Illini as opponents are starting to focus on freshman guard Lori Bjork.

“Lori stands out and she’s developed a bullseye, and now we need other people to step up,” said Illini head coach Theresa Grentz.

The Illini defense is a major reason for its 5-2 record this season as they are holding opponents to 52.1 points per game and 33 percent shooting which is seventh in the nation.

“The players have come together and I think (the defense) has improved,” Grentz said.

The Illini three point shooting is also up from last season from 28 percent to 34 percent.

Florida is on a four-game winning streak and defeated South Alabama 74-57 in its most recent game on Monday night.

The Illini lead the series between these teams 2-1 and have won the last two times they have met by an average of 17 points, including a 97-77 win in the last meeting in December of 1998.

The game against the Illini will be the second game of an eight-game homestand for the Gators which will take them into the new year.

The Gators are led by senior forwards Brittany Davis and Dalila Eshe who are averaging 13.9 and 14.4 points per game respectively.

Just like the Illini have in Bjork, the Gators have an outstanding freshman in guard Sha Brooks who is the second leading scorer on the team with 14.1 points per game.

Grentz believes the Gators are a more athletic team and a better rebounding team than the Illini, despite the Illini having outrebounded its opponents by six rebounds per game and Florida outrebounding its opponents by four.

“I can implore our group to be aggressive on the boards,” Grentz said.

Some members of the team did express a little bit of excitement getting out of the cold in Champaign and into a warmer climate in Florida, at least for a day.

“It’s short, but it will be nice,'” Acuna said.