Game 24 Notes & Links: Illinois at Minnesota
Feb. 7, 2014
Illini Hit String of Pink Games: Sunday's game at Minnesota begins a string of three consecutive "pink" games intended to raise awareness for breast cancer and honor cancer survivors and fighters. Thursday's game at Iowa is the Hawkeyes' pink game, while Illinois' is next Sunday, Feb. 16, when the Illini host Michigan at 1 p.m.
Time to Hit the Road: After playing consecutive home games on Feb. 2 and 5, four of Illinois' next five contests are away from State Farm Center. That stretch begins at Minnesota, where the Illini won 91-86 on Jan. 28, 2013, and continues Thursday at Iowa, where the Illini last played in January 2012. After hosting Michigan on Feb. 16, Illinois plays at Indiana and Nebraska prior to wrapping up the regular season at home against the Hawkeyes. The Illini are 2-4 in true road games this season, with both wins coming in conference play.
Bollant Shakes Up Rotation: After using only three different starting lineups in the season's first 22 games, Illini head coach Matt Bollant used a completely new group of starters against No. 24 Michigan State on Wednesday. Ivory Crawford continued in a starting role, while Nia Oden received her third start of the year. And freshmen Taylor Gleason, Sarah Livingston and Ashley McConnell earned their first career starts.
Illini Cranking Up Defensive Pressure: After breaking Big Ten records for steals and turnovers forced in conference games last season, Illinois is back at it again in 2013-14. The Illini have forced 202 turnovers in their first eight Big Ten games (20.2 pg), including pressuring Wisconsin into 30 miscues, No. 14 Penn State into 27 and forcing 23 by No. 24 Michigan State, the Spartans' most in Big Ten play. UI forced a season-high 36 turnovers against Alcorn State on Nov. 17 and has caused 20-plus turnovers 14 times. Illinois ranked 11th nationally in steals per game (11.1) and 14th in turnover margin (+5.91 per game) through games of Feb. 6, leading the Big Ten in both categories.
Taking Advantage of Turnovers: The Illini have regularly out-scored opponents off turnovers this season, averaging 22.1 points off turnovers per game, a 7.4-point per game advantage over their foes. Illinois has scored over 20 points off turnovers 10 times this season, most recently with 25 at Northwestern on Jan. 15.
Scouting the Gophers
Although Minnesota ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (69.7 ppg), the Gophers are very good defensively, standing second in the conference in scoring defense (62.7 ppg). However, that has flipped in Big Ten games, as UM is sixth in offense (71.3 ppg) but 10th in defense (73.1 ppg) for a -1.8 ppg scoring margin that ranks seventh in the conference. In Big Ten play, Minnesota is third in field-goal percentage (.447) and leads the league in three-point percentage (.394). The Gophers also rank fifth in both defensive field-goal (.410) and three-point percentage (.325). However, UM is one of five teams in the league with a negative rebounding margin in conference play (-2.3 rpg), ranks ninth in blocked shots (3.7 bpg), 12th in steals (5.0 spg) and 11th in turnover margin (-2.3).
Junior guard Rachel Banham is one of the top guards in the nation, ranking 14th nationally and leading the Big Ten in scoring in all games (22.2 ppg), and in conference games (23.6 ppg). She has connected on 47 percent of her three-pointers on the season, which ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally, and is just behind Amber Moore with 2.9 treys per game.
Redshirt-freshman center Amanda Zahui B. has asserted herself as one of the Big Ten's best inside threats, averaging a double-double in all games (14.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg) and in conference games (14.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg). She is one of four players nationally to record a triple-double this year, accomplishing it against Kansas (Nov. 20) with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. She also ranks second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally with 2.95 blocks per game, and leads the league and stands 23rd nationally in rebounds (10.7 rpg).
When you add sharpshooter Sari Noga, third guard Shayne Mullaney and forward Micaëlla Riché, the Gophers appear to form one of the most formidable offenses in the conference, shooting 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range. But Zahui can be foul-prone, fouling out in three of nine Big Ten games, and that has limited her to only 28.8 minutes per game in conference play. Riché averages only 20.7 minutes per Big Ten game as well.
Series History Against Minnesota
Last Season Against Minnesota
Minnesota's Rachel Banham - who led all scorers with 37 points, the most against the Illini since DePaul's Lenae Williams scored 39 on Dec. 4, 2001 - gave the Gophers an 82-81 lead with 4:10 left, but Illinois scored six of the next seven points to push ahead 87-83. Minnesota pulled within 87-86 on a three-pointer by Sari Noga with 1:31 left, but the Illini held the Gophers scoreless the rest of the way.
In the return game less than two weeks later, Amber Moore scored Illinois' last nine points and the Illini finished on a 16-6 run to secure a 76-66 win over Minnesota in front of 2,703 fans at State Farm Center on Feb. 10, 2013. Moore finished with a game-high 25 points, Karisma Penn added 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Adrienne Godbold posted 20 and 10, respectively.
Illinois led 32-27 at half and maintained that lead through much of the second half. But Minnesota used an 8-3 spurt to tie the game at 58 with 5:54 remaining. The teams traded baskets before Illinois went on a 7-0 run to pull ahead 67-60 as Minnesota missed six straight shots. Rachel Banham hit a three-pointer to pull the Gophers within 67-63, but Moore counterd with a trey of her own at the 1:27 mark then made 6-of-6 free throws in the final minute to put the game away.