Butler comes to town for women’s basketball season opener

Butler comes to town for womens basketball season opener

By Steve Contorno

The Sunday after Illinois announced it’s eighth top-25 recruiting class in head coach Theresa Grentz’s tenure, the women’s basketball team will play in their first regular-season game of the year against Butler University at Assembly Hall. Illinois is 12-1 all-time at home in opening games.

On Wednesday, the Illini locked up guards Chelsea Buher and Lydia McCully, as the two signed national letters of intent to play at Illinois next year. Both recruits were listed as top-100 seniors in the class of 2007.

“With this recruiting class we filled our needs in the back court with a shooting guard and a point guard to compliment our current roster,” Grentz said. “I can see both young women making contributions early in their careers. The fans will love both of these ladies, as they are personable and exciting to watch.”

Sunday the Illini will play their first game of the regular season after routing teams in back-to-back preseason games. Illinois beat Clarion 86-30 on Nov. 3 and Lewis 96-49 on Nov. 7. Illinois shot over 54 percent in both games while holding opponents to less than 30 percent. Sophomore guard Lori Bjork led the team in scoring in both games, scoring a combined 47 points. Even though the Illini will be playing a more difficult Butler team, Grentz said she expects Bjork to continue to put up big numbers.

“Whether you’re playing different teams, you still have to be able to put the ball in the basket,” Grentz said. “Just because you’re playing a so-called lesser talented team doesn’t mean that the ball is going to go in.

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    “Lori (Bjork) knows that. She’s comfortable at the point position with the ball in her hands. I expect her to shoot the ball the same way.”

    Grentz also said that the first game will bring some nerves but that the team has worked hard and looks forward to playing someone else.

    “They’re excited to play for real,” she said.

    Illinois will be playing an experienced Butler squad that is returning eight players from last year. Nearly 95 percent of all the Bulldogs scoring from last season came from the eight, including all 223 three-pointers. Senior guard Jackie Closer set a Butler record with 84 three-pointers last season and returns to the Horizon League as a member of the Preseason All-League First Team.

    While trying to stop Closer, the Illini will also need to work hard in the paint to create opportunities outside. Senior forward Erin Wigley said the team will look to establish themselves down low early in the game.

    “We need to be able to set screens, make shots and find the open people,” Wigley said. “We’ve got to be able to be a presence and be a threat.”

    After facing a pair of Divisioin II schools in the preseason, Illinois will have to be able to protect the ball better in the regular season.

    The Illini had 50 turnovers in their preseason games and made mistakes that won’t be as forgiving against better teams, Bjork said.

    “I think part of the turnovers have come from not playing together,” Bjork said. “We’re a young team with a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing. I think if we adjust to each other we’ll clean that up.”

    Both Wigley and Bjork said that the team is excited to play against schools that can match their ability.

    “We’ve been putting up a lot of effort the last two games and we want to have it be worth something this time,” Bjork said.