The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois women’s basketball hosts Northern Kentucky in final midmajor tuneup

The Illini (4-2) continue their homestand after a humble 39-point win over Central Connecticut State this past Wednesday. With conference play looming and SEC matchups with Missouri and Arknsas on the horizon, Illinois will look to pad their record as they welcome the Norse of Northern Kentucky (1-5) out of the Horizon League.

For Illinois, this is most likely their last game before they have to turn off the cruise control and really prove what they’re made of. However, that doesn’t mean that head coach Shauna Green and the Illini haven’t learned anything about themselves and what this team can be over the course of this nonconference schedule.

“Obviously we’ve been through a lot, right?” Green said. “We’ve dealt with injuries, we’ve dealt with different adversity … It’s all part of the journey. We’ve learned a lot, good and bad … We’re right there. We can compete with anyone in the country when we play up to our potential.”

For the Illini, in this game and going forward, it will be about really finding what their identity is and sticking to it for the long haul. Illinois hasn’t done anything on a particularly poor level yet as they seem to be at least middle of the pack in most national team statistics; however, there is one important thing the Illini have done at an elite level, and it’s scoring the ball. 

Green’s team is currently No. 21  in the nation in points per game at 83 and an astounding No. 5  in the nation in field goal percentage at 51.7%. There is no doubt that Illinois knows how to get an efficient bucket when they need one, but their staggeringly low 16.3 three-point attempts per game are something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

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    A championship-caliber offense generally has to be both efficient and effective, which is hard to do when players might be a little more hesitant to space the floor.

    Leading the way for Illinois so far this season is the guard-big duo of senior Genesis Bryant and senior Kendall Bostic. The recent resurgence, and perhaps breakout, of junior guard Adalia McKenzie has given the Illini a three-headed dragon that can compete with anyone in the Big Ten. 

    In total, the three of them are averaging 42.2 points per game, 16.5 rebounds per game, 7.2 assists per game and 5.7 steals per game. Bryant, Bostic and McKenzie have accounted for, at minimum, about half of Illinois’ production in each of these categories. 

    The scariest part of all is that it doesn’t even begin to factor in the widely perceived star player of the team, senior guard Makira Cook. The Cincinnati native missed the first three games of the season and has struggled mightily for portions of every game she has played since her return. Despite these struggles, Green isn’t worried and continues to push for positive development every day for Cook.

    “I’ve been trying to instill confidence in her (Cook) and just be overly positive with her,” Green said. “She has a lot of pressure on her … Everyone expects her to just be Makira, but I understand that it’s a process.”

    Green preached a lot of these same messages when talking about the Illini’s new arrival bench pieces, fifth-year center Camille Hobby and sophomore forward Shay Bollin. Both have shown plenty of upside and promise of what they could be for a Big Ten contending Illinois team, but these adjustments simply just take time. It will be crucial for Illinois to get consistent production, at least at a replacement level, from their reserves when it comes to big games down the stretch, and, given time, Green says Illini fans can still expect that.

    Head coach Camryn Volz is in her eighth season at Northern Kentucky The results haven’t always been peachy, but she does have the Norse coming off of two straight winning seasons. Unfortunately for fans though, Northern Kentucky has started about as poorly as it could have this season. The Norse are 1-5 with their only win being a home game that they barely eked out against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Illini scorers should be licking their chops as Northern Kentucky sports a team defensive rating of 103.4 which is good for a remarkably low No. 342 in the country. 

    The offense for Northern Kentucky isn’t much better either, led by four double-digit scorers in junior guard Khamari Mitchell-Steen, freshman center Carter McCray, senior guard Kennedy Igo and junior guard Macey Blevins. However, aside from Igo who has only played in two games, all of them have been woefully inefficient from the field and extremely turnover-prone.

    Northern Kentucky’s main offensive positive is its ability to get to the free throw line, but even then they shoot a fairly mediocre 69.5% from there as well. If the Norse want a chance to upset the Illini, they will have to make Illinois beat themselves with fouls, turnovers and other silly mistakes.

    Walk, drive or utilize public transportation to make your way down to the State Farm Center on Dec. 6. Illinois will be taking on the Norse of Northern Kentucky in what should be another good one for Illini fans. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

     

    @spitzanity

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