Illini still trying to get consistent effort


Illinois coach Matt Bollant reacts after controversial call from the referee during the Illini’s loss to Ohio State at Assembly Hall on Thursday, Feb. 28th, 2013.

By By: Stephen Bourbon

After 26 games with the same roster, Illinois women’s basketball head coach Matt Bollant still doesn’t know what to expect from his players.

The 2013-14 season has been an inconsistent one at best for the Illini (9-17, 2-11 Big Ten), and Bollant believes that effort has been a major factor in the team’s ups and downs.

“We talk about getting to first base, and that’s playing hard,” Bollant said. “We’re not there yet but at times we’re close. Certainly a lot closer than we were against Iowa.”

Bollant has tried shaking up the lineup to instigate change — every player still on the roster has at least four starts — but nothing has quite worked to snap the Illini’s current losing skid.

Illinois has lost seven consecutive games and has yet to win a conference home game this season. The Illini roster is undermanned; the Illini currently have only nine healthy players, and just one senior, but need consistent effort to get over the hump in a conference that has five of the top 31 teams in RPI.  

“The Big Ten is a very competitive league,” senior Amber Moore said. “We’re trying to fight, we’re practicing hard every day. We just have to bring it to the court and hopefully next game, we get that.”

Tuck puts together career game

After a two-game stretch where guard/forward Taylor Tuck didn’t leave the bench, the junior has responded with back-to-back productive games for the Illini.

Tuck scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting in 17 minutes against Iowa on Feb. 13 and built on that performance Sunday against Michigan. Tuck set a new career-high for with 18 points in 31 minutes to go with two rebounds, two assists and a block. For an Illinois team that has struggled to score in recent games, a boost off the bench was key.

“I thought Taylor had her best game of the year, coming off the bench,” Bollant said. 

Tuck was a starter to open the season while the team was without Alexis Smith but had been averaging 2.2 points per conference game before being benched. The 6-foot junior also gives Illinois some size and length on the perimeter — both key aspects to a successful trapping zone defense like the “Buzz.”

“Coming off the bench, my focus is to just contribute,” Tuck said. “Whether that’s finishing open shots or pressuring the ball up top. Just doing anything I can to help our team.”

Play 4Kay game draws big crowd 

Sunday’s contest marked the annual Play 4Kay pink game to raise awareness for breast cancer.  

Play 4Kay is an event that supports the Kay Yow Cancer Fund to raise cancer awareness and funds for women’s cancer research. The Illini participated last season and have worn pink jerseys the past three games this year in honor of the initiative.

Sunday’s attendance of 3,018 was the second highest of the season, only behind a crowd of 3,306 for a home tilt against No. 16 Nebraska on Jan. 12.

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