Illini women’s basketball gets 2nd shot at Indiana on road

Illinois’ Taylor Tuck dribbles the ball during the game against Michigan at State Farm Center on Feb. 16, 2014. The Illini lost 63-70.

The Illinois women’s basketball team’s 77-58 loss to Indiana on Feb. 2 remains fresh in the minds of nearly everyone who donned orange and blue that day.

That was the last time anything was the same with head coach Matt Bollant’s squad, as he flipped the team’s minutes on their head and started three freshmen. Now, those three freshmen will have a chance to make amends for the season-altering loss one last time against the Hoosiers on the road Saturday, where the Illini have seemingly played best all season.

Despite the team’s record, Bollant said he isn’t giving up on the season just yet.

“We’re still trying to continue to build the program,” he said. “Get better and grow kids and grow individually and grow as a team and see if we can finish on the best note possible.”

Early-game defense cost Illinois (9-17, 2-11 Big Ten) in the teams’ first matchup, as Indiana (17-9, 4-9) was able to score 34 points in the first 10 minutes of the game to take a commanding lead it would never surrender. Bollant said his team’s mission was to stop the Hoosiers’ guard play, which proved costly in the first matchup. Larryn Brooks, Indiana’s main scorer (16.7 points per game), reached her season average in points with 16 and racked up 10 assists. Alexis Gassion had one of her best games of the year at State Farm Center when she hit 4-of-5 threes and 8-of-10 shots for 22 points.

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“Their guard play is a huge strength for them,” Bollant said. “Their freshmen guards (Brooks, Gassion and Taylor Agler) are really good. They’re really skilled as a team with their ability to handle the ball and pass and shoot.”

Bollant said he’s not going to attempt any lineup changes with three games remaining in a lost season. All eyes will be on guard Taylor Tuck, who has looked like a completely different player the past two games. The junior scored nine points against Iowa on Feb. 13 and then set a career-high 18 points against Michigan on Sunday.

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

The Illini will once again be without freshman Jacqui Grant, who has not recovered from mono. The pressure will be on freshmen Sarah Livingston to guard the Hoosiers’ bigs. Without Grant, Illinois is devoid of the ability to rebound the ball, which was evident in the team’s 70-63 loss against Michigan in which the Wolverines out rebounded the Illini 48-19.

Blake can be reached at [email protected].