Illini face Robert Morris


Illinois’ Kyley Simmons dribbles the ball down the court during the game against IPFW on Friday. The Illini won 70-63.

By Joey Figueroa

After nearly being upset in its home opener on Friday, Illinois women’s basketball will look to find its offensive rhythm when it hosts Robert Morris University for the first time in school history at State Farm Center Tuesday night.

Heading into their second game of the young season, the Illini have yet to make a three-pointer, an area that head coach Matt Bollant assumed would be a strength this season. Illinois went 0-for-21 from beyond the three-point arc against IPFW and had to rely on its defense to edge out a victory.

Illinois may not fare as well if it has a similar shooting performance against a tougher Robert Morris team.

The Colonials are fresh off of a 21-12 season during which they were the Northeastern Conference regular season and tournament champions and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. They lost their season opener to Iowa, but hung around with the No. 19 Hawkeyes for most of the game.

“They’re really skilled,” Bollant said. “Their guards can all shoot the ball, they handle the ball well. Even though they’re young, these are foreign kids who probably have a lot of experience and they play like that. They’ve got a good combo of some skilled kids and then also some toughness as well.”

In the off-season, Robert Morris lost its best player, Greek-born Artemis Spanou, who accounted for 28 percent of the team’s scoring last season, recording 19.4 points per game and adding 14.5 rebounds per game. The Colonials are now led by Anna Niki Stamolamprou, who also hails from Greece and scored 21 points against Iowa. This may be the most diverse roster the Illini will face all season, as eight of the Colonials’ 14 players hail from foreign countries, including Greece, Spain, France, Canada and Congo.

With three players listed at 6’3”, Robert Morris has the size to match freshman center Chatrice White and sophomore forward Jacqui Grant down low, but the three big Colonials combined to play just 22 minutes against Iowa.

“They play differently than some other teams defensively,” Bollant said. “They play behind in the post, so we’ll see if (White) can get catches near the basket and get some finishes early.”

White dominated in the paint against IPFW, reaching the free throw line eight times during her first double-double as an Illini, and will look to continue finding her rhythm against Robert Morris.

“I just have to take my time, get my balance under me and not rush too many shots,” White said. “I just need to slow down and finish my shot.”

Illinois hasn’t won two consecutive games since last December and will rely on a patient offensive attack to try to avoid another poor shooting performance and break that streak.

“We just need to take the right shots at the right times,” junior guard Kyley Simmons said. “Instead of forcing shots, (we should) not take a three that’s a little rushed and our feet aren’t quite right. We need to recognize that and just be able to knock it down when it’s a good shot.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3.