Illinois to face No. 11 Colorado

By By: Stephen Bourbon

The Illini might have to face their toughest test of the season without their head coach.

Head coach Matt Bollant might not travel with the Illini (5-4) when it travels west to face No. 11 Colorado (7-0) on Saturday as he is sick with the flu.

“We still have to go and play hard,” guard Alexis Smith said. “We got to go to Colorado and bring him home a win if he’s not coming.”

The Illini are losers of two straight amid of a tough part of their schedule as Saturday’s game against the Buffaloes will be Illinois’ fourth opponent of the last five are at least receiving votes in the latest poll. Facing the hardest part of their schedule to date, assistant coach Mike Divilbiss said that the coaching staff needs to be cognizant of player fatigue.

“I’ve coached girls basketball for 29 years and one thing that I notice with them opposed to the guys is that they can get leg weary,” Divilbiss said. “It can be challenging if you let it. One of the things that you teach the kids through this schedule is you have to be tough enough to get through the environment and still execute, regardless of where we’re playing.”

Illinois has lost three of its last four. The Illini lost to No. 11 North Carolina as well as Arizona State at the Cancun Challenge before losing to Georgia Tech on Tuesday. One of the problems in recent losses has been the Illinois offense, which had been one of the tops in the country earlier in the year. In the past four games, the Illini are averaging just 62.5 points per game, after having more than 78 points in each of the first five games.

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“We need to be patient offensively, I think we’re shooting the ball a little too quick,” Divilbiss said. “There’s really only one person that should be shooting the ball on the perimeter early in the possession and that’s Amber (Moore). We’re doing way too much of that, we need to be more patient offensively.”

Colorado returns four starters from a 25-7 team a year ago — a record that includes a 69-62 victory in Champaign on Dec. 1, 2012. Jen Reese leads the team with 12.3 points per game while shooting a red-hot 56 percent from the field. Colorado will shoot the ball from deep, as they’ve made 37 percent of their 3-point attempts on the season, led by Lauren Huggins shooting 44.2 percent from behind the arc.

This game marks the second of three games in six days across three different time zones, although Divilbiss isn’t going to let that be an excuse.

“You can find all sorts of reasons to fail if you look hard enough,” Divilbiss said. “But you can also find all kinds of ways to be successful if you look inside yourself.”

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