Ever seen a 6-foot-9 woman? Now’s your chance

Wesley+Fane+The+Daily+Illini+Illinois+Macie+Blinn+%2821%29+works+around+a+Missouri+defender+during+the+first+half+of+the+game+at+Assembly+Hall+on+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+19%2C+2008.%0A

Wesley Fane The Daily Illini Illinois’ Macie Blinn (21) works around a Missouri defender during the first half of the game at Assembly Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008.

By Anthony Zilis

When the Illinois women’s basketball team played Ohio State two weeks ago, the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-4 Jantel Lavender was the tallest player Illini freshman Macie Blinn had ever faced.

Blinn rejected Lavender for her first block of the season, but she shouldn’t be expected to do the same against Michigan State’s tallest player.

When 6-foot-9 Alyssa DeHaan walks through the Assembly Hall tunnel Thursday, possibly ducking to avoid hitting her head on the ceiling, her height will be something the 5-foot-11 Blinn competes against for the first time.

DeHaan is currently second in the Big Ten in blocks, at 3.2 per game, but statistics don’t entirely speak to her effect on opponents’ game plans. Like many before them, Blinn and her fellow Illini guards will certainly be deterred from driving to the basket.

“We’ll just have to find other ways (to score),” Blinn said, adding that the pull-up jumper will be a tool she’ll utilize often against the sophomore.

But DeHaan isn’t the Goliath her height suggests.

The preseason All-Big Ten center has a slender frame, which is a disadvantage against bigger post players, like Lavender and Illinois’ Jenna Smith, who were also preseason All-Big Ten honorees.

“As much as everybody’s thinking, ‘OK, Jenna’s got to play DeHaan,’ DeHaan’s got to think about Jenna Smith,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said.

DeHaan’s lack of bulk can be a burden to her on both ends of the floor.

Although she posts solid averages of 10.7 points (on 45 percent shooting) and 6.8 rebounds per game, her numbers are unusually low for a player who is a head taller than the competition.

“One thing I know is that she doesn’t like contact,” said Illini forward Lacey Simpson, who guarded DeHaan in last year’s Big Ten Tournament. “We’ll just force her up the lane and force her to beat us from the outside.”

Although Simpson acknowledges the merits of DeHaan’s height, she and her teammates aren’t too worried about the tallest player in NCAA women’s basketball.

“I wouldn’t say DeHaan is our main concern,” Simpson said. “Jenna Smith will be fine. If she needs some help, she can give me a holler, I’ll be right there for her.”

Michigan State, though, will be a test for the Illini, who have won two straight. The Spartans are tied for second in the Big Ten at 8-3.

DeHaan is complimented by 6-foot-1 forward Aisha Jefferson, who leads the team with 11.3 points per game. After sitting out last season on a medical redshirt, Jefferson has somewhat made up for DeHaan’s lack of bulk by adding five rebounds per game.

But after watching the Spartans fall on Monday to Minnesota, 60-44, Law isn’t afraid.

“They looked a little vulnerable,” Law said. “It just didn’t look like the Michigan State I had seen prior.”

A win against one of the top teams in the Big Ten would be huge for Illinois, which is going for its third straight win after losing its first nine in the Big Ten.

“We’re the hunter right now. Everyone knocked us down and pretty much counted us out,” Law said. “We’re coming for it.”