Spartans visit for rematch

Illinois’ Jacqui Grant goes for a free throw. Beaten in January, the Illini are looking for a rematch against Michigan State. 

By Joey Figueroa

With just two games remaining before the Big Ten tournament, the Illinois women’s basketball team (14-14, 5-11 Big Ten) will host Michigan State (13-14, 5-11) on Wednesday night. The Big Ten battle will be the first of Illinois’ final two games at State Farm Center this season.

The Illini lost their first matchup with the Spartans in January, giving Michigan State its first Big Ten victory of the season. The two teams have taken relatively similar paths of inconsistency since their first contest and are both trying to end their respective seasons on a high note heading into the tournament.

“Both teams now are playing with a lot of momentum,” head coach Matt Bollant said.

Michigan State stumbled into Big Ten play, losing its first five games and 10 of its first 13 conference matchups. The Spartans have righted the ship of late, winning two of their last three games, the most recent being an upset win over No. 20 Rutgers — a team Illinois fell to 80-56 last week.

Like Michigan State, Illinois has won two of its last three games and is coming off an emotional come-from-behind 47-46 victory at Purdue on Saturday.

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    “We’ve had a lot of games where we played well and didn’t get the result,” Bollant said. “There’s a game where we didn’t play well offensively, but found a way to get the result we were looking for.”

    Following the Purdue win, Bollant praised sophomore forward Jacqui Grant and freshman center Chatrice White for each grabbing 10 rebounds and limiting opposing chances with their length inside. The Illini frontcourt will face one of its toughest tests of the season in Michigan State’s versatile forward Aerial Powers.

    Powers leads the Spartans in every offensive and defensive category except for assists, in which she is second. Her 22.2 points and 11.9 rebounds are 11th and seventh, respectively, in the nation. She also ranks third nationally with 20 doubles-doubles. 

    Last time the Illini played the Spartans, Powers led all scorers with 33 points on 14-of-15 shooting from the free throw line.

    “They’ve got a good team and they’ve been playing their best basketball in a long time,” Bollant said. “Very talented team coming in.”

    Since Illinois’ 95-point performance against Minnesota earlier in the month, the Illini have averaged 57 points per game, which is nearly 10 points below their season scoring average.

    Junior point guard Kyley Simmons has taken responsibility for Illinois’s offensive performance all season and said the Illini need to slow it down in order to find the best shot possible.

    “(It’s) me just being the calming effect,” Simmons said. “If (shots aren’t) falling, just keep going.”

    With just two weeks until the Big Ten tournament, Bollant wants the Illini to continue to improve every day and it seems as if the rest of the team has bought in.

    Simmons said she and White have taken on more of a leadership role recently. They both look to steer the Illini in the right direction to end the season.

    “We’ve really grown these last couple weeks,” Simmmons said. “That’s what we have to do: keep learning and just play with confidence.”

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