Women’s basketball attempts to crawl out of Big Ten basement at Michigan State

Ohio State cannot be touched in the Big Ten women’s basketball standings or rankings by any other team.

The No. 7 Buckeyes are the only ranked team in the conference (Michigan State is the only other team in the conference to receive votes in the latest polls) and, at 13-2, are four games ahead of second-place Purdue in the conference standings.

Take the Buckeyes out of the equation, though, and the Big Ten is a free-for-all.

Only four games separate Purdue and last-place Illinois (13-12, 5-10), and only two and a half separate fifth-place Iowa from the Illini.

This means Illinois, with three games remaining in a regular season that has turned sour, still has a chance to make a significant move in the standings and improve its seed for the Big Ten Tournament.

“In this conference, (teams) don’t matter, because on any given night, any person can win,” forward Lacey Simpson said.

The Illini, though, haven’t done themselves any favors in the process of jockeying for seeding. They have lost eight of their last 10 conference games and on Sunday in Iowa, they trailed by 30 and eventually lost 77-67.

Despite a comeback that brought the Illini to within four points of the Hawkeyes, the flat start was disappointing for a team that had beaten Northwestern, 81-50, just three days prior.

“I thought we looked scared not to make a mistake, not to do the little things,” head coach Jolette Law said.

For a coach who has preached to her team the importance of playing 40-minute games, Law was disappointed with her team’s lackluster first half.

“It’s frustrating because I don’t understand the mentality, because it’s not the kind of player I was, it’s not the kind of coach that I am and I just don’t understand it,” she said.

“I’ll constantly tell them, ‘I don’t understand, I’m not used to it, I’m not going to get used to it.’ The only thing I can do is continue to push, to motivate and block out this fear.”

Illinois will begin its quest to improve its seeding against Michigan State and 6-foot-9 center Allyssa DeHaan in East Lansing, Mich., on Thursday night.

The Spartans (17-8, 8-6) got off to a disappointing 2-5 start in the Big Ten after a strong nonconference season in which they rose to as high as No. 10 in the AP Poll and beat then-No. 2 North Carolina.

After the rough conference stretch, the Spartans have won six of their last seven and sit in a tie for third in the Big Ten.

“They’re always a tough team, they’re good one through five,” center Jenna Smith said. “If we play the way we played in the second half (Sunday) and against Northwestern, we should be able to get a win.”

Simpson is just looking to get out of the Big Ten cellar.

“You never want to go into the Big Ten Tournament in last place,” she said. “I still think that if we win these last three games, hopefully we get a bye game. We definitely don’t want to go in there in last place.”