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Illinois women’s basketball looks to upset No. 3 Maryland

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Illinois women’s basketball looks to upset No. 3 Maryland

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Kennedy Cattenhead shoots a three during the game against Indiana at the State Farm Center on February 10. The Illini lost 70-68.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

In the time since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014, the Illinois women’s basketball team has not defeated the Terrapins.

In last year’s contest, the Illini lost 79-63 to the fifth-ranked team in the country. This season, the Terrapins are ranked No. 3 nationally behind Big 12 powerhouse Baylor and three-time defending national champion Connecticut. They will have a second chance in tomorrow’s home game at 7 p.m.

Seniors Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are pacing the Terrapins with 19 points and 17 points per game, respectively. The team is averaging 93 points per game: first in the Big Ten and second in the country. Illinois will try to slow down the high-powered offense.

“We’ve played well at home in the Big Ten,” Head Coach Matt Bollant said. “We’ll be excited for the challenge.”

The Terrapins are the Illini’s second ranked opponent of the season. In its previous game against Ohio State, Illinois struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Freshman Brandi Beasley led the team with 17 points, shooting above 50 percent in the first half, but made only two of her eight shot attempts in the second half.

Sophomore Alex Wittinger posted her seventh double-double of the season in Columbus, Ohio, but Illinois’ leading scorer missed 10 of her 15 shots from the field. Wittinger is averaging nearly 16 points and nine rebounds per game, and Bollant believes she will get back on track at home.

“She didn’t have the first half that she would like to have,” Bollant said. “One of the things (we’re trying to do) is get her more rest. (She) took off Monday, and we went really light on Tuesday with her.”

Maryland’ last loss was against Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut. The Huskies are currently on an unprecedented 94-game win streak, which the Terrapins almost snapped in an 87-81 showdown last December.

Assistant coach for Maryland Shay Robinson’s squad hasn’t looked back since, squaring off against its potential Final Four opponent. Maryland is currently undefeated in the Big Ten and has won all seven of its games by nine points or more.

Bollant said that Maryland has a shot at a national championship but added that there are things his team can do to disrupt the Terrapins. The Illini have not won a game on the road this season, but they are 8-4 overall at home and 3-0 in conference play at the State Farm Center.

Junior Kennedy Cattenhead is averaging 7.3 points per game this season, but has struggled to score against her Big Ten counterparts. Cattenhead has totaled only 11 points over her last four conference games, but said that she looks forward to facing some of the conference’s best talent.

“(I’ll) do whatever my team needs me to do,” Cattenhead said. “I can pick it up in other areas if I’m not scoring. I feel like going against some of the top players in the country can be a great learning experience.”

In their last outing, the Illini struggled to break the Buckeyes’ full-court press. The Terrapins also like to pressure the ball,and have the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten. Maryland also leads the conference in steals at nearly 12 per game.

“I think as a point guard, you gotta love that kind of stuff,” point guard Jaelyne Kirkpatrick said. “You gotta love the pressure of having the ball in your hands. Personally, I’m ready for that. I know Brandi (Beasley) does a really good job of it too. I think we’ll do well as long as we stick to what we need to do offensively.”

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