Women’s basketball wraps up home slate against Spartans

Illinois+Sarah+Hartwell+takes+a+layup+over+Northwesterns+Nia+Coffey+during+the+game+against+Northwestern+at+State+Farm+Center+on+February+4.+The+Illini+lost+69-59.

Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illin

Illinois’ Sarah Hartwell takes a layup over Northwestern’s Nia Coffey during the game against Northwestern at State Farm Center on February 4. The Illini lost 69-59.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Staff writer

Sarah Hartwell’s mom won’t be in attendance during the Illinois women’s basketball game Wednesday, she’s already given her daughter a formal sendoff on the hardcourt.

Hartwell and the rest of the Illinois women’s basketball senior class won’t be honored Wednesday night – Illinois’ last home game of the season. Hartwell and the four other seniors on the team received their farewell after last Saturday’s loss to Rutgers in front of friends and family.

Despite the Illini (9-18, 2-14) having already celebrated the careers of its senior class, Hartwell still expects her final appearance at State Farm Center against No. 20 Michigan State (20-7, 11-4) to be emotional.

“Saturday, even though we got acknowledged, in my head I was like ‘Oh it’s just another game on a weekend,’ but I think tomorrow knowing that it’s my last game at State Farm, it’s kind of bittersweet,” Hartwell said.

Illinois has five seniors. This season, Hartwell and guard Kyley Simmons have had the most impactful of that group. Eriel Davis and Simone Law have been sidelined due to injury and Alexis Viliunas joined the team in January after playing volleyball for Illinois the past four years.

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    Hartwell and Simmons will have their hands full with the Spartans. Michigan State is top-five in the Big Ten in points scored and points allowed. The Spartans are third in the conference for scoring margin, averaging about a +13 point margin. Illinois is one of three teams in the conference averaging a negative margin.

    Michigan State is 7-3 in its last 10 games, while Illinois is 1-9.

    The Spartans are led by juniors Aerial Powers and Tori Jankoska and sophomore Branndais Agee. Powers averages 22 points and nine rebounds per game, Jankoska averages 15 points and about four assists and Agee averages 12 points and five rebounds.

    Simmons said Illinois’ focus will be on mostly on Powers and Jankoska.

    “Aerial Powers is one of the best players on their team and I think our focus is to shut her down, (and) shut Jankoska down,” Simmons said. “We should be OK. We just got to come in and fight and leave it all out on the court. It’s our last home game, we’re excited to play in front of our fans and it’s always nice to be home.”

    But there was a time when State Farm Center was not home for most of these seniors.

    Illinois has a unique senior class – not one senior played for Illinois all four years of their career. Three of the five transferred from different schools, one played only her sophomore year of before returning and one played volleyball four years at Illinois before joining the team.

    Hartwell played a year at Georgia Tech before transferring and Simmons played two years at Missouri. Despite this, of this year’s seniors, Hartwell and Simmons have logged the most minutes for the Illini.

    Playing for the Illini Hartwell is 1-3 against Michigan State and Simmons is 0-2.

    While Illinois has struggled this year, head coach Matt Bollant said the Illini ending on a high note would be meaningful for the impact the seniors have had.

    “I just want them to finish on a good note,” Bollant said. “We’d love for their last thing in State Farm to be a positive.”

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    @MattGertsmeier