Illinois hopes to snap losing streak against No. 16 Ohio State

Members+of+the+Illinois+Womens+basketball+team+huddle+up+during+the+game+against+Valparaiso+on+Dec.+2.

Ryan Ash

Members of the Illinois Women’s basketball team huddle up during the game against Valparaiso on Dec. 2.

By Nithin Reddy, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s basketball team will take on the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes Thursday evening. The Illini are in the midst of a three-game losing streak that began at the start of Big Ten play. Due to two cancellations, the Illini had a long layoff between their first and second conference games.

In that time, the Illini were hit with the injury bug as freshman guards Aaliyah Nye and Aaliyah McQueen, as well as junior center Geovana Lopes, are all expected to be out. Head coach Nancy Fahey is trying not to use that as an excuse.

“You go through something where it’s injuries, and everyone says, ‘next player up, next player up, next player up,’ and we’re saying that for the fourth time now and sometimes you have to realize no one really cares,” Fahey said.

The Illini have an uphill battle, but if they plan on pulling off the upset, they are going to need a strong start against Ohio State. In the Illini’s last two games they trailed 14 points and 25 points after the first quarter and never recovered. Against Ohio State, the Illini can’t fall apart early.

Ohio State poses many challenges for Illinois. They rank second in the Big Ten in scoring offense and third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, outscoring opponents on average by nearly 35 points. Led by sophomore guard Jacy Sheldon’s 18 points per game, the Buckeyes love to push the ball and find shooters.

They’re able to do this because they play efficient basketball shooting 53% from the floor and 35% from three. Ohio State is also very willing to take three-pointers, averaging 20 attempts per game. They allow all their players to stretch the floor and shoot when they want to.

The 6-foot-4 junior forward, Dorka Juhász ranks second on the team in both scoring and threes attempted. The Illini will likely put redshirt junior Eva Rubin on Juhász to match her size. However, Juhász’s willingness to leave the paint creates a tough matchup for Rubin. This week of practice Rubin believes will help prepare her best for the assignment.

“I just have to flip my mindset and that starts at practice,” Rubin said. “Our practice guys are doing a really good job of applying whatever principles the team we’re going to play has. I know that when our scout guy who plays the four or the five catches the ball on the perimeter, I have to contest the shot and have to be ready to move my feet as well, so being able to drill in those new principles throughout the week is going to super helpful for this game.”

After back-to-back blowout losses, the Illini were forced to go back to the drawing board. Injuries seemed like an obvious reason for the Illini’s recent struggles, but Fahey felt there were other issues. That’s why she and the team have focused on looking at film to find mistakes.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the film room, a lot of time. As we say film doesn’t lie,” said Fahey, “Sometimes when coach is talking, and you can see it and own it we all can own it and do it together. We’ve dropped our practice hours down so we can do it with intensity and focus.”

Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on Big Ten Network. This will be the final game of a short two-game homestand to start the year.

@theindianmamba

[email protected]