Illini head to Northwestern after 11-day break

Redshirt+Junior+center+Eva+Rubin+goes+for+a+layup+during+the+game+against+Iowa+on+Jan.+3.

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Redshirt Junior center Eva Rubin goes for a layup during the game against Iowa on Jan. 3.

By Nithin Reddy, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s basketball team will take on Northwestern Wednesday in Evanston. The Illini are in the midst of an 11-day layoff, due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan State’s program resulting in the cancellation of their scheduled game last Thursday.

This isn’t the first time the Illini have had to deal with a long wait time between games. In December, the Illini had to wait three weeks between games due to similar COVID-19 issues within the Michigan and Southern Illinois programs. The uncertainty between games has been tough for Illinois.

“There’s an emotional rollercoaster that you and your staff and your players go through because it’s a build-up from the first time after game you start your process of preparing, and then you get to that point of competition and it falls off,” said head coach Nancy Fahey.

It’s been a tough go for Illinois lately. The team is currently winless in conference play, but some of the blame can be attributed to bad luck. The Illini have been forced to shorten their rotation due to injuries, and their frontcourt has been crippled since redshirt junior center Eva Rubin missed time earlier in the season and junior center Geovana Lopes is expected to miss the next few weeks.

It’s been tough as most of the injuries have happened to newcomers. Incorporating new players is tough with a limited non-conference schedule, throw in those injuries and it’s even harder.

This upcoming matchup is a rivalry game despite the two programs going in opposite directions. The players on Illinois still feel that component of the game.

“Northwestern calls themselves Chicago’s Big Ten team and as someone that is from Chicago and I take a lot of pride in coming back home and coming to play at Illinois that just motivates me and it motivates all my teammates,” Rubin said.

Northwestern this year has not shot as well from the field, but they have used their ability to attack the offensive glass to add extra possessions. A season ago, the Wildcats used two bigs inside, this year they have focused much more on their backcourt.

“Their backcourt in my opinion is probably the best in the Big Ten,” said Fahey. “(Northwestern) gets so much off of their defense, if you throw the ball around too much, they make you pay every single time.”

Due to their small size, expect Northwestern to zone Illinois as a way of shutting down Rubin inside and forcing the Illini to take outside shots, an ongoing issue for the team.

In their last matchup, Northwestern dominated Illinois en route to claiming a share of the Big Ten title. Despite Rubin not playing in the game, she was on the bench with the team and thinks it will motivate the Illini.

“(The Northwestern game) was a tough one for sure and it was motivating because I wanted to be out there,” Rubin said. “They had a pretty good post player last year, and I wished that I was able to go out there and match her.”

Following this game, the Illini will return home to face Nebraska, whom they narrowly lost to in their Big Ten opener.

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