Illinois women’s basketball adjusting without Crawford

Sitting at 2-4 in Big Ten play, the Illinois women’s basketball team and head coach Matt Bollant are already forced to adjust to a major bump in the road. Senior guard Ivory Crawford has now been sidelined for a week with a knee injury. 

“Obviously, the injury to Ivory (Crawford) is a big deal to us, she’s kind of our senior leader and has that toughness and made a lot of plays down the stretch, and I think that really hurt us in the Nebraska and Michigan State games,” Bollant said. 

Crawford is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game and is in the Illinois program’s top 20 all-time for points. Crawford’s absence has been apparent in the Illini’s three straight losses without her, only scoring a high of 56 points in any of those games. 

“Honestly, we need to make more plays,” Bollant said. “I look at Kyley (Simmons) and Brittany (Carter) and Jacqui (Grant) in the past three games, they haven’t been great.”

Freshman guard Amarah Coleman has stepped into the starting lineup in Crawford’s place and helped carry the load on the offensive end. In the Illini’s most recent game, Crawford posted 24 points in a loss to Maryland. Coleman and post player Chatrice White have responded well to their high levels of responsibility as freshman.

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    “I’m excited about our freshman, if you look at our leading scorers in the Big Ten after six games, our top three scorers are two freshman and then Ivory (Crawford),” Bollant said. 

    Not only does more responsibility fall on the shoulders of the freshmen with Crawford stuck on the bench, but it also shortens an already tight rotation. Freshman guard Brooke Kissinger and senior Taylor Tuck have seen minutes off the bench sporadically, but will most likely become more involved in rotation until Crawford returns. 

    “We’re searching for (depth),” Bollant said. “We’ve tried a lot of different kids over the last few games and we’re searching for who’s going to help us off the bench, who’s going to be consistent, and I don’t think we’ve found that yet,”  

    For Bollant, the issue comes down to a matter of trust. Crawford has been one of the most dependable players in the program for years and is one of the few impact seniors on the current roster. This means Bollant and his staff are putting their trust in younger players and transfers who are still feeling their way through the program and the Big Ten, only six games into conference play.

    “We’re having to trust a lot of kids that are putting on an Illinois uniform for the first time and that’s a challenge, to be really consistent,” Bollant said. 

    As for Crawford’s return to the court, it may come sooner than expected. The initial time table was about four weeks for recovery. Bollant said it looks like Crawford is on pace to be back in uniform closer to three weeks total. 

    “It’s hard to know right now, but she’s ahead of schedule, so we’ll see,” Bollant said. “I know she’s anxious to get back on the court and obviously we’re anxious to have her back as soon as possible.” 

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