Wisconsin matchup has positive implications for women’s basketball

For an 11-17 team, the final game of the regular season on the road against an 8-18 team wouldn’t normally be of much significance. But for the Illinois women’s basketball team, it is.

If the Illini (11-17, 5-10 Big Ten) take care of business against Wisconsin (8-16, 4-10) on Sunday, they will lock up the No. 9 seed and a date with No. 8 Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The alternative is a matchup with the No. 7 seed or the No. 6 seed if they finish a 10th or 11th. A “log-jam in the middle”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/womens_basketball_down_but_not_out_of_big_ten_picture of the conference among Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan has spots three through seven up for grabs. Illinois “split the season series”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/illinois_fails_to_keep_winning_streak_alive_at_minnesota with Minnesota but has just “one victory”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/01/illini_womens_basketball_snaps_losing_streak_in_ot_win_over_michigan_state in six games against teams that could end up with the No. 6 or No. 7 seed.

“We’re just focusing on going into the tournament time, like we did last year, just trying our best to take over, no matter what the seeding is,” junior guard “Adrienne GodBold”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/godbolds_productivity_off_bench_at_alltime_high said. “Of course we would like to be at the top, but since we’ve managed to be at the bottom right now, we just got to work hard to try to do the best that we can to get into ninth.”

If the Illini end up with the No. 10 or No. 11 seed, history won’t be on their side. Since the tournament’s inaugural season in 1995, No. 10 teams are 2-17 and 4-17, respectively, as opposed to 11-17 for teams in ninth. But under head coach Jolette Law, Illinois has found success in the conference tournament regardless of where it starts. Law is 7-4 in tournament games in her first four seasons at Illinois, despite never starting better than ninth.

“I’m honestly not exactly sure the seeding makes that much of a difference,” senior guard “Lydia McCully”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/mccully_embraces_leadership_role said. “At the end of the day, we always do well in the tournament.”

Law’s teams have advanced to at least the quarterfinals in each of her four seasons, making a run to the semifinals in 2008 and in 2011, when they became the first No. 11 seed to advance that far in the tournament.

Regardless of the standings implications, the Wisconsin matchup provides an opportunity to enter the tournament with the momentum of a two-game winning streak.

“To come off a two-game winning streak, usually you come in with a little more confidence,” McCully said. “When you have your head up, it’s hard to beat you.”

Wisconsin won the first game 70-67 over the Illini on Jan. 8, just a few games in the Big Ten season. Sophomore forward Kersten Magrum scored a game-high 20 points before going down with a concussion in the second half. Magrum is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms and has appeared in just three games since. Her status for Sunday’s game is unknown.

“I want to get some payback because she hasn’t been 100 (percent) since then, so this game is big for me,” GodBold said. “We just got to come back at them real hard and focus on the win. I want to do it for Kersten for real, because she hasn’t really played much at all.”

With several of the top Big Ten teams looming on the schedule, McCully said the Illini may have looked past the Badgers, who were 5-11 at the time.

“We can’t overlook anybody,” McCully said. “I think maybe the last time we played Wisconsin, even though our record wasn’t worthy of overlooking exactly anybody, I think we kind of did.”

Whereas the Illini were winless in the conference the last time they took on the Badgers, they enter Sunday’s contest having won “three of their last four”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/womens_basketball_outshoots_wildcats_rises_in_rankings games.

“I think we’re ready for whoever we play,” sophomore guard “Amber Moore”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/moore_puts_in_a_loud_31_for_illini_womens_basketball said. “We’ve been doing pretty well the last few games, so I think if we would get this win, it would give us a lot more confidence.”