NCAA bid likely relies on tourney performance

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By Dave Fultz

In a week where awards are being passed out left and right and experts are discussing the merits of each bubble team, the Illinois women’s basketball team only had one thing on its mind at the end of Thursday’s practice: beat Penn State Friday night when they meet in Indianapolis for their quarterfinal match-up.

For the first time in seven years the Illini have a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament after finishing in fourth place in the conference. The only three teams that finished ahead of Illinois were the nationally ranked No. 5 Ohio State, No. 15 Purdue and No. 22 Michigan State.

The Illini were something of a surprise this year, as they were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten in preseason polls.

“The first thing you should learn in life,” head coach Theresa Grentz said after Thursday’s practice, “is that you can never let anyone tell you how good you are or what you can or can’t do.”

That has been the mentality of a young Illinois team that has worked hard to get where they are today. In their only meeting with Penn State this season, the Illini won a tough game that went to overtime to open the Big Ten season.

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    “I think they’ll definitely have some new things (Friday night),” Grentz said. “They know where they are going and what they want to do.”

    To have a strong showing this weekend, the Illini will have to be mentally and physically prepared when the time comes.

    “We all have to show up,” Grentz said. “This will have to be a complete and total effort.”

    It is likely that in order to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament, the Illini will have to win at least one or two games this weekend to impress the NCAA’s selection committee.

    “I think (finishing fourth in the conference) is definitely something to be proud of,” sophomore guard Lori Bjork said. “But at the same time we know that the selection committee might not think being number four is good enough. To show that it is, we are going to have to win a couple of games.”