Women’s basketball hopes to sweep Michigan at home

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By Dave Fultz

Illinois (15-5, 5-3) will look for another Big Ten Conference victory when Michigan (9-13, 2-7) comes to the Assembly Hall Thursday.

The Illini, fresh off of their 77-49 blowout win over in-state rival Northwestern, will look to keep their momentum rolling as the Wolverines come to Champaign.

Michigan is also coming off of a big win as they picked up their second conference victory on Sunday against Indiana.

“It was over a month ago the last time we played (Michigan),” head coach Theresa Grentz said before practice on Wednesday. “They’ve changed and come away with a couple of key victories since then. They’ll pose new problems for us this time that they didn’t when we played them last time.”

The Illini won the Jan. 4 meeting between the two teams by a score of 70-51 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Since then, the Wolverines have struggled to a 2-4 record, including a two-week span in which they lost four straight games. The Illini, on the other hand, have been winning games due to their stifling defense.

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    The Illini have only allowed more than 60 points eight times this season, and are 12-0 when they allow less than 60.

    They have also dominated the boards as they lead the Big Ten in rebounding defense (33.2), rebounding margin (+7.8) and defensive rebounding (29.38), while ranking second in rebounding offense (41.0) in conference play. The Illini also lead the conference in three-point field goal percentage defense (.247) and rank second in the conference in overall field goal percentage defense (.345).

    “Those stats just prove the old adage of defense winning games and winning championships,” sophomore guard Lori Bjork said. “When we have that intensity on the defensive end, it helps us to carry it over to the offensive side of the floor.”

    With a win on Thursday the Illini would match the number of victories that they had all of last season, but the squad is looking to do much more this time around.

    The Illini play three games against ranked teams in their last six games of the season, so they know the road will be tough.

    “I think we are a much improved team compared to last year,” Bjork said. “But on the other hand we still haven’t beat a Top 25 team yet this year. We are going to get a few of chances to do that in the next two weeks and we’d like to even eclipse what we did last year in bigger and better ways than just our number of victories.”

    Grentz also knows that this team has its plate full down the stretch.

    “This team still has a lot of basketball in front of it,” Grentz said. “(The season) is not over, we’ve got to keep rolling.”