Young team looks to prove Big Ten mettle

By Derek Barichello

The women’s basketball team is tired of losing close games.

After dropping their third Big Ten game of the season 57-53 to No. 11 Purdue at Assembly Hall on Sunday, the Illini will have a new mentality when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., to take on the Hoosiers tonight.

“We have nothing to lose,” said senior point guard Maggie Acuna. “We’ve shown that we are all capable of playing at a high level. We just need to finally capitalize.”

The Illini had that attitude on Jan. 15 and Wisconsin paid the price losing 84-54, but in its last road outing Illinois played timid and lost a winnable game at No. 12 Michigan State, 72-61.

“We are learning,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “We played at Michigan State a little scared. Then we played very, very well against Purdue, but in that game the difference was an experienced team versus a very young team.”

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Grentz believes the difference might lie in how the team approaches the game. She wants her team to believe they deserve to win every game and overcome any doubts that they can contend in the Big Ten.

“I just watched this team go 83, 85 and 91 percent from the free throw line in their last three games and watched them miss four free throws in a row and I’m thinking, ‘What are they possibly thinking?” Grentz said. “We relax and go 12 for 14 in the second half. So, we’re doing positive things. We held Purdue to 32 percent shooting and held Michigan State to 27 points in the first half. We just have to maintain it. We deserve to win. That’s a mentality. Some teams have it and some are working to get it. We’re working to get it.”

The question is whether the Illini can figure it out in time to make a run. Tonight’s trip to Indiana could prove to be pivotal. Both teams are tied for fifth place at 4-3 in the conference and the outcome of this game could determine whether or not one of these teams will be in competition for a Big Ten title in March.

“It will be a tremendous battle,” Grentz said. “They need to win, we need to win. Each game is more important than the one before it. It’s all about figuring out ways to get an edge.”

With three ranked teams looming next for the Illini, wins will be tough to come by. The Illini travel to No. 7 Ohio State on Sunday, before coming home to face No. 14 Minnesota and Michigan State next week.

If the Illini can survive that stretch and get a few wins, they could finish in the top division of Big Ten teams and compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

“We want to be in a race,” Grentz said. “We can try to understand and get in it. We just need a couple wins to get in it and muck it up a little bit.”