Illinois women’s basketball not underestimating Tennessee-Martin

Illinois+Chatrice+White+attempts+a+contested+shot+during+the+game+against+Ohio+State+at+the+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+14%2C+2015.+The+Illini+won+66-55.

Sonny An | Assistant photo edito

Illinois’ Chatrice White attempts a contested shot during the game against Ohio State at the State Farm Center on Saturday, February 14, 2015. The Illini won 66-55.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Staff writer

No matter what team she is facing, Chatrice WhiteJT attacks every opponent with the same mentality.

“A team is a team,” the Illinois women’s basketball center said. “We’re going to prepare the same way as if we’re going to prepare for Maryland.”

This Saturday, Illinois (2-0) hosts Tennessee-Martin (1-1) at Parkland CollegeJT. Tennessee-Martin has a little over 7,000 students enrolled and competes athletically in the Ohio Valley ConferenceJT.

But Illinois put them on the schedule for a reason.

After starting last season 4-9, the Skyhawks went on an 18-game winning streak. Tennessee Martin finished 22-11JT, 16-0 in conference, and lost in the first round of the NIT Tournament. The Skyhawks were one win away from a trip to the NCAA Tournament, but lost to Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley Tournament championship game.

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    The Skyhawks drained 18 three-pointers in their season-opener. Last Sunday, they lost by six points to No. 23 IowaJT.

    Illinois head coach Matt Bollant expects Saturday’s game to be a challenge for the Illini.

    “They’re similar to Ohio, in regards that they’re a really talented team with a different style of play,” Bollant said. “They led Iowa in the second half. (They’re) a team that can really shoot the ball, really pass the ball, so we’ll have to make some adjustments there.”

    While, Tennessee-Martin is averaging 70 points per game, Illinois’ defense may pose a threat to that averageJT.

    Opponents are averaging 44.5 points per game against the IlliniJT. They recorded 19 steals against Chicago State and five blocks against Ohio — White had four of those blocks.

    Illinois’ three defensive sets — man, zone and buzz — help it adjust to whatever the opponent’s offense may throw at them. With a strong perimeter-shooting team like Tennessee-Martin, Illinois may start with its buzz defense and swarm the Skyhawk ball handlers in an attempt to force turnovers.

    Offensively, Illinois’ inside game may be threatened by Tennessee-Martin’s post players. With forward Simone Law still out due to injury, Illinois is limited to White and 6-foot-1-inch freshman Alex WittingerJT.

    Tennessee-Martin has four forwards who measure in at 6 feet or taller. White, averaging 17.5 points and 13 rebounds a game, will be challengedJT.

    But Bollant thinks both White and Wittinger will be fine.

    “We’re not going to play many teams that are as good at the five as Chatrice is,” Bollant said. “(She will be fine because she is) able to step out and shoot it, she can pass, so it will be interesting to see, I think most teams are going to double-team her and so she’ll have to pass and find other people as well.”

    Wittinger struggled with foul trouble against Chicago State, but Bollant believes that her nerves got in the way and that she played better against Ohio.

    Bollen will try to utilize senior guards Kyley Simmons and Sarah HartwellJT. The two are averaging 13.5 and nine points per game, respectively. After scoring 14 points in the season opener, Hartwell struggled against Ohio, scoring four points on 2-for-8 shootingJT.

    Hartwell said as long as she stays mentally prepared and confident she can improv her scoring and help her team win on Saturday.

    “We just have to prepare like we always prepare and just get ready for this weekend,” Hartwell said.

    @MattGertsmeier