Illini women’s basketball opens season on road

By By: Stephen Bourbon

While the Illinois women’s basketball team will open the 2013-14 season on the road, the team won’t be traveling far.

The Illini open up at Bradley in Peoria, Ill., at 11 a.m. on Friday. These two teams met last year at State Farm Center early in the season. The Braves emerged victorious on the road by a score of 83-77. A senior Karisma Penn led the Illini in that game with 29 points and 16 rebounds, but Illinois won’t have her to rely on this year. Catie O’Leary led the Braves in last season’s matchup with 15 points and 12 rebounds. She is one of three returning starters for Bradley.

“They’re a veteran team that has some good pieces,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “We lost by six (last year), didn’t play very well. We’re obviously hoping to play better this year.”

The Illini will still be without many contributors as the injury bug lingers around the program. Guard Alexis Smith is now on crutches with a mid-ankle sprain. Smith started wearing the crutches on Tuesday to keep weight off her foot and try to keep the injury from progressing into a stress fracture. In addition, the Illini will still be without Mckenzie Piper, who is also dealing with an ankle sprain and will not be available for the game.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had so many injuries at one time,” Bollant said. “I don’t remember ever having this amount of injuries, but it’s part of the deal, so you deal with it.”

One area the Illini are wanting to clear up from their showing in an exhibition victory over Cardinal Stritch is turnovers. Illinois committed 25 turnovers in the exhibition, seven more than its 2012-13 season average. Paired with just 18 assists on the game, Bollant knows the Illini have work to do.

“I think we lost our edge. We got up 20-2 and 44-15 and kind of lost our edge,” he said. “We’d like to be above 1-to-1 (assist to turnover ratio) if we can. We obviously weren’t above that last year, we were above that at Green Bay. We’re hoping to head in that direction.”

While at Green Bay, Bollant’s teams aimed for a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio but also took into consideration the amount of turnovers forced. Even though the Illini gave the ball away 25 times, they forced 33 turnovers.

Having that defensive intensity to force turnovers will spark the offense, senior guard Amber Moore said.

“We’re focusing on our defense, being aggressive in both man-to-man and buzz,” she said. “With that, we’ll create more offense for us. We’re not focused on our offense because we know that our defense will dictate that.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.