Battle of the streaks in Illinois women’s basketball game

Illinois+Brooke+Kissinger+drives+to+the+basket+during+the+game+against+Penn+State+at+the+State+Farm+Center+on+January+23.+The+Illini+lost+65-56.

Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illin

Illinois’ Brooke Kissinger drives to the basket during the game against Penn State at the State Farm Center on January 23. The Illini lost 65-56.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Staff writer

Both teams have a streak on the line this Thursday as the Illinois women’s basketball team hosts Northwestern at State Farm Center. But both are streaks neither team wants to extend.

The Illini (8-13, 1-9) and the Wildcats (13-9, 2-8) are both struggling to get a win. Illinois is riding a four-game losing streak, while Northwestern has lost five straight. Both teams are 1-7 in their last eight games.

Illini head coach Matt Bollant said he is expecting both teams to be eager to snag the win, especially with Northwestern coming off of a season where it finished fourth in the Big Ten and was a No.7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m sure they’re disappointed,” Bollant said. “They’ve lost a few close games. (And) coming from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year and finished really high in the Big Ten, I know they expect to better than what they have. Both teams will be hungry to get a win on Thursday.”

One of Northwestern’s most recent close games was against Ohio State. Northwestern lost to the No.7 Buckeyes by three points in second meeting of the season for the two teams. Northwestern beat Ohio State two weeks prior.

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    The Illini are fresh off a loss to Ohio State on Monday night. In one of Illinois’ more impressive losses of the season, the Illini’s second half defensive effort helped keep the game close. Ohio State shot about 55 percent in the first half and 31 percent in the second.

    Illinois’ zone defense left the three point line exposed and Ohio State took advantage, stringing together some outside jumpers and threes, which ultimately sealed Illinois’ fate.

    Bollant said he prefers to play more man-to-man defense, but with his team’s lack of experience, a zone is easier to learn. He also said he has seen his team’s defense improving as the season has progressed. Illinois’ defense will need to tighten up against Northwestern who is averaging about 78 points per game in its last four outings, compared to Illinois’ 67.

    “We’ve got a lot of kids that haven’t played college basketball and the learning curve is a lot,” Bollant said. “They’re trying, they’re getting better. I think we’re better defensively now than we were earlier, but we’ve got to keep growing and keep getting better.”

    Northwestern’s offense is propelled by its upperclassman. Its four leading scorers against conference opponents consist of three juniors and one senior and they combine to average about 64 points per Big Ten game. Junior Nia Coffey leads the Wildcats with 22 points per game.

    Illinois’ top four conference scorers, on the other hand, are one freshman, two sophomores and one senior. Together they average 48 points per Big Ten matchup.

    In Bollant’s tenure as head coach for Illinois, he has gone 2-3 against the Wildcats. Coffey has appeared in three of those contests and averages 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks against the Illini.

    If Illinois wants to come away with its first win in two weeks, it will need to utilize its bigs. Chatrice White and Alex Wittinger both had a double-double with points and rebounds against Ohio State. Wittinger is also coming off a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award.

    The Illini will need to look to its bench for help. Sophomore Brooke Kissinger hit five threes in 20 minutes from off the bench against in Monday’s loss.

    While the Wildcats stand in the Illini’s way of ending its losing streak, Kissinger is optimistic that the Illini can earn the win.

    “They’re a well-coached team and (there are) smart players on the team,” Kissinger said. “(But) we’re just going to go out there and play our game and do our best and we’ll see what comes.”

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