Mentality key for Illini against UAB

By Wesley Deberry

Relentless pressure will make even the most mentally and physically strong person in the world fold.

From tip-off to the final shot of the game, the Illini women’s basketball team has been its opponents’ shadows, mimicking their every move. In their first two games the Illini forced 36 turnovers and allowed only 14 second-chance points.

The Illini will need the same type of effort Wednesday night as they face Alabama-Birmingham at Assembly Hall at 7 p.m. Alabama-Birmingham will come into Champaign 0-1 after suffering a defeat in its opener to No. 17 Vanderbilt 92-51.

“This is probably going to be one of the most athletic teams that we face all year,” Illinois assistant coach Patrick Klein said. “They’re very quick, athletic and they get up the floor very fast.”

The Blazers are returning four seniors to their starting lineup and are led by senior forward Diamond Rogers. In UAB’s opening loss to Vanderbilt, Rogers was the only player in double figures, scoring 23 points.

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Despite the threat that Rogers poses to opposing teams, Illini head coach Jolette Law said she plans to give UAB different defensive sets throughout the game but will not hesitate to play man-to-man defense.

“We are not going to stop Rogers, but we are going to contain her,” Law said. “We are not going to let her come in here and have a field day.”

On defense Law said there is not one set player that will guard Rogers, but rather different players such as junior forward Chelsea Gordon who Law called her “defensive stopper.”

On the offensive side the Illini still have issues that need to be worked out. In their first two games, the Illini had 41 turnovers. Junior Illini guard Lori Bjork said that turnovers and mental mistakes such as shot clock violations have been an area of focus for the Illini in practice this week.

While turnovers and momentary mental lapses have been a problem for the Illini, scoring has not. Sophomore forward Jenna Smith was honored as the Big Ten’s Player of the Week for her efforts in the first two games. After two games Smith is averaging a double-double, as she averages double figures in both rebounds and points.

Law said she is not concerned with teams trying to game plan to stop Smith.

“Jenna was the hunted when we started the season because everybody knew she had a great freshman year,” she said.

Senior forward Danyel Crutcher and sophomore forward Lacey Simpson have provided a big spark for the Illini in their first two games. Crutcher and Simpson have accounted for just more than 60 percent of the Illini’s points off the bench so far.

In 30 minutes of playing time against UW-Milwaukee, Simpson contributed seven rebounds. Crutcher added 13 points in 31 minutes..

“A lot of people get caught up about who starts,” Law said. “I am about who can finish and get the job done while they’re in there.”