Illini women’s basketball returns home to face No. 22 Purdue

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  • Illinois’ Ivory Crawford dribbles against Nebraska at State Farm Center on Jan. 12. The Illini lost 75-56 and are 0-3 at home in Big Ten play.

After a 12-day road trip, it’s finally home, sweet home for the Illinois women’s basketball team.

The Illini (9-10, 2-4 Big Ten) started conference play losing three consecutive home games but bounced back during their longest road stretch of the year, going 2-1, beating Northwestern and Michigan State but losing to Michigan. Illinois will attempt to mend its home struggles against a hot No. 22 Purdue (14-5, 4-3 Big Ten) squad that has won four of its past five.

The Boilermakers heavily rely on their two senior guards, Courtney Moses and KK Houser. The duo averages a combined 30.5 points per game and has hit 93 of the team’s 136 3-pointers made on the year. Moses has been near unstoppable beyond the arc, as she is shooting 47.7 percent, good for second in the conference. Houser complements Moses’ strong offensive game with pesky defense, averaging two steals a game which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Sophomore guard Sarah Hartwell said the key to winning against Purdue was stopping its guard tandem. Junior guard Ivory Crawford compared the Boilermakers to the Illini’s previous opponent, Michigan State.

“We’re going to get ready just like we did for Michigan State,” Hartwell said. “Their guards are really fast and their forwards are really slow, pretty much like Michigan State.”

Crawford also said Illinois’ win on Thursday “changed the whole mindset of everyone” in the locker room.

The rivalry’s history doesn’t favor Illinois. The Boilermakers have dominated the Illini the entire series, holding a 50-17 all-time record against the Illini. Last season, Purdue swept Illinois by a difference of 13 points. The Illini have not beaten the Boilermakers since Feb. 21, 2010.

“One of the biggest things we have to do is defense,” freshman forward Jacqui Grant said. “We’ve been working on that a lot, just keep fighting on defense, because we know our offense can convert.”

Fortunately for the Illini, their offensive strengths match up well with the Boilermakers’ defensive flaws. Purdue ranks last in the conference in defending the 3-point shot, allowing opposing teams to shoot 33.4 percent. The 3-pointer has been the Illini offense’s bread and butter this season, especially for senior guard Amber Moore, who averages three per game, ranking 16th in the country. Additionally, the Illini have been able to shut down opposing 3-point shooters, most recently limiting Michigan State guard Annalise Pickrel, who ranks fifth in the conference with a 44.3 3-point percentage, to a 20-percent outing in the Illinois win Thursday. The Illini as a team rank sixth in the conference in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 30.4 percent per game.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]