Illini women’s hoops dominates in-state rival

If there was any doubt about the balance of women’s basketball power in the state of Illinois, the Illini may have put it to rest on Saturday. Head coach Matt Bollant’s squad went down to Carbondale and beat up on Southern Illinois, 86-42. The win pushes the Illini to 7-2, while dropping the Salukis to 4-2. 

Illinois shot out of the gate, winning the first half, 57-15. Although the second half finished much closer, Illinois’ 58.5 percent shooting from the field in the first half was too much for the Salukis to match. After Illinois’ pummeling of Virginia earlier in the week, the team have now put together two straight solid performances on both sides of the ball.

“I’m proud of our team, we came on edge and ready to play and got off to a great start,” Bollant said. “We just did a lot of really good things, we passed the ball extremely well, we got to the rim and got the ball inside and had a good balance.” 

Although many may have perceived Southern Illinois as a punching bag coming into the matchup, Bollant said it was a good win against a 4-1 team. He pointed out that the Salukis were top-60 in the national RPI rankings coming into the game.

After the Virginia game, Bollant had pointed out defense as one of the areas that still needed to be worked on. 

Illinois held Southern to just over 30 percent shooting from the field, and forced 21 turnovers over the course of the game. Bollant said the team defended really well, especially in the first half. 

Illinois also continued to improve on another area of concern throughout the beginning of the season: 3-point shooting. Illinois went 7-of-18 from behind the arc, which is becoming more and more of a regularity as the games roll on. 

“I like the shots that we’re taking, we’re getting rhythm shots and they’re good looking shots and we’ve got different kids making shots, which is great as well,” Bollant said.

One thing Bollant did say the coaching staff wanted to see more of was keeping the intensity up in the second half, which the Illini only won by two points. 

The Illini were led offensively by Ivory Crawford and Chatrice White, who each had 21 points. Although they only had three players score in double figures, Illinois accomplished something on offense that it hadn’t done all season. All 13 active players not only saw court time, but they also all made at least one shot from the field. 

With two statement wins in a row, the schedule won’t get any easier. Illinois still has two more road games in the trip, playing at Seton Hall and then at Valparaiso later next week. The win at Southern Illinois was the first true road game of the season, so the win should set a mood for the rest of the trip.

“You just never know with a young team and so many new players, you never know how they’re going to respond,” Bollant said. “(Southern Illinois) had a great crowd today, and our kids came on edge and it was really fun to see us so ready to play.”  

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Blerner10.