Illinois women’s basketball looks to end five game skid at Nebraska

Riding a five-game losing streak and still without its leading scorer, Ivory Crawford, the last thing Illinois women’s basketball needs is a road game against a top-15 team in the nation. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Illini will battle through at Nebraska on Thursday night. This is the second matchup of the season between the two teams: the first was won by the Cornhuskers 58-53 and was the first loss in the current losing streak for head coach Matt Bollant’s Illini. 

“The preparation’s a little different when we play a team a second time,” Bollant said. “We’re still watching film to see what they’re doing differently and hopefully be able to watch the first (game) and adjust to the things (Nebraska) did last time.” 

One of the main issues Illinois has dealt with throughout the losing streak is the ability to put together a full game, which was the case in the first matchup with Nebraska. The Illini had a two-point halftime lead, but lost the second half by seven. Similar situations have happened in other games in the losing streak as well, although in most games Illinois has started slow and tried to make a run in the second half. 

“We’ve got to be more of a 40-minute team, in the Big Ten playing against great teams you can’t be a 15, 20, 25-minute team,” Bollant said. 

The other big issue Illinois has been battling all season is bench production. Senior Taylor Tuck is the only nonstarter that is averaging over two points per game over the course of the season. She’s also the only bench player averaging double-digit minutes per game on the season with 11. The issue has been a constant fight for Bollant all year, but without Crawford, the issue has become magnified throughout the losing streak.

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One bright spot on the issue was sophomore guard Ashley McConnell’s play in the loss at Michigan. McConnell shot 2-of-2 from 3-point range, and Bollant said he is trying to get her to look for her shot more.

“I’m really confident coming off the bench and playing with (the starters),” McConnell said. “I know they believe in me so it’s an easy transition to come from the bench to the court.”  

One thing Illinois can expect to be the same in Nebraska’s gameplan is the attacking mentality of junior guard Rachel Theriot. Theriot is averaging 17 points per game and dropped 27 on the Illini earlier this month. Bollant says he expects Coleman to guard Theriot in most situations, so Coleman’s foul situation will be something worth keeping an eye on. 

Another thing working against Illinois could be the environment at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were No. 11 in the country last season in attendance, averaging over 6,100 fans per home game according to the NCAA. Although it could be a factor against them, it seems that Illinois could embrace the underdog mentality in order to pull off the road upset and stop the losing streak at five. 

“I think (going to Nebraska) is going to make us want to play better,” Coleman said. “We’ve been on a little losing streak, but it’s not stopping us from wanting to get better and play better and beat bigger teams that people portray to be better than us.” 

Brett can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter