Illinois women’s basketball heads to Michigan

By Joey Figueroa

Now stuck in a four-game losing streak, the Illinois women’s basketball team will look to right the ship Monday night against Michigan in a Big Ten challenge on the road.

Illinois (11-8, 2-5 Big Ten) is fresh off a one-point loss at home to Northwestern, in which the Illini turned the ball over 24 times and had just nine second-chance points despite grabbing 14 offensive rebounds, their second-highest total in conference play this season.

It has been rare for the Illini to outrebound their opponents. Michigan (12-6, 4-3) will prove to be another tough test on the glass as the Wolverines are third in the Big Ten in rebounding margin. The Wolverines are led by forward Cyesha Goree, who is fifth in the conference in rebounding with more than 10 boards per game. Goree will likely match up with Illinois’ top rebounder, freshman center Chatrice White, who had limited touches and fouled out against Northwestern with 14 points.

Sophomore forward Jacqui Grant said Illinois’ formula to success on offense starts with White in the post.

“She’s such a big presence inside,” Grant said. “That draws the defenders in and (she) has the skills to pass it out, she sees the floor pretty well. Once we get inside, we’ve got to play inside-out.”

Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks 19th nationally in 3-point defense, holding its opponents to just over 26 percent from downtown on the year. The Wolverines will do their best to challenge the Illini’s stout perimeter defense, as Michigan comes into Monday night’s game shooting the long ball at a 38 percent clip, which is good for 12th in the nation. Guards Siera Thompson and Katelynn Flaherty have both attempted more than 100 3-pointers and have kept their respective shooting percentages above 40 percent. 

Michigan and Illinois rank fourth and fifth in the Big Ten in made 3-pointers per game, respectively, so this game could turn into a shootout. Junior guard Kyley Simmons has led the Illini’s shooting attack with 2.2 made 3-pointers per game, good for sixth in the Big Ten, and has shot just under 43 percent from deep over her past 15 games.

After a slow shooting start to the season, the Illini seem to have gained confidence in their shooting abilities.

“The shots were falling,” Grant said after the Northwestern game. “We know we can do that, so that’s not really an issue.”

An issue for Illinois has been its depth after losing senior guard Ivory Crawford to a knee injury, and head coach Matt Bollant said he is still searching for more options off the bench before fatigue becomes significant for the starters.

“It’s the Big Ten, its physically demanding,” Bollant said. “We’ve got to find some other kids to step up and give those kids a break when they need it.”

Three of Illinois’ next five opponents are ranked or have received votes in the most recent polls, so a win or a loss at Michigan might prove pivotal as the Illini find their place in the Big Ten.

“We’ve got to get better,” Bollant said. “We need to grow and we’ll have an opportunity to that Monday at Michigan.”

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

@joeyfigueroa3.