Illini women’s basketball hits the road to take on Ohio State

The Illinois women’s basketball team will get a chance to improve its winning record on the road in conference play.

The Illini (9-11, 2-5 Big Ten) will face Ohio State (13-10, 3-4) in Columbus, Ohio, for the teams’ first and only meeting of the year. Neither squad has been able to gain traction in conference play and both are coming off losses, with the Buckeyes losing three of their last four. The Illini have split their last four after an 0-3 start.

The Buckeyes, like the Illini, rely on a balanced offensive attack. Five of the Buckeyes’ players average 8.8 points per game or more. The team’s main scorer is guard Ameryst Alston. The sophomore is leading the team in scoring (16.7), assists (2.6), steals (1.1) and ranks second on the team in 3-point percentage (34.4 percent).

“They’re different from last year,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “Last year, they had two really good guards. This year, they’ve got really good size inside. I think we’ll match up pretty well.”

Bollant and junior guard Alexis Smith praised Alston’s pull-up jump shot and said the defense really needs to get under her and disrupt her shot in order to win.

Forward Jacqui Grant emerged as another offensive weapon for Illinois in its loss against Purdue on Monday. The freshman scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and four blocks. Twelve of those points came in the second half. Grant’s 6-foot-3 frame will be relied on against the Buckeyes, as they have no elite rebounding threats. Ohio State’s leading rebounder is 6-foot-2 Darryce Moore, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game.

Getting to the free-throw line has been the Illini’s Achilles’ heel all year. Illinois is 6-2 when attempting 20 or more free throws in a game. The Illini have averaged 3.3 fewer free throws made per game than their opponents, while the Buckeyes have made 1.2 more per game than their opponents this season. Against Purdue, the Illini shot 13 free throws, making six.

“It’s very important to draw fouls and getting those easy points,” Smith said. “I think it’ll be very important, especially when it comes down to close games, and we get a chance to capitalize on the other team’s foul.”

Smith also said she felt like her team got to the foul line more than usual against Purdue, but the Illini still need to increase the amount of shots attempted and shots made in order to change the outcomes of games. In Illinois’ most recent win against Michigan State, the Illini got to the line 25 times to the Spartans’ 15.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]