Nov. 1, 2013
Change Coming for Illini in 2013-14
Head coach Matt Bollant said often in 2012-13 that the first year after a coaching change is about the players who are there, then the new staff fully installs their system the following year. That will be the case with Illinois in 2013-14, as the Illini have moved from a dribble-drive offense with a focus on feeding All-American forward Karisma Penn in the post to a dribble motion system featuring four or five guards.
Newcomers Help Fill Void Down Low
With Penn exhausting her eligibility in 2012-13 and signing with an Italian professional team and career-ending injuries to forwards Kersten Magrum and Kierra Morris, the Illini were left with sophomore Mckenzie Piper as their only returning post players. But freshmen forwards Jacqui Grant and Sarah Livingston arrived to help Piper fill the hole in the middle and both likely will see early playing time.
Illini Need New Scoring Threats to Emerge
The Illini will look to fill a major void in the scoring column this year, as they lost 45.9 percent of their total points from 2012-13, largely as a result of the departure of Karisma Penn and Adrienne Godbold. The Illini rank ninth in the Big Ten in percentage of points returning from last season at 54.1. But senior Amber Moore showed late last season that she can shoulder more of the scoring load, averaging 16.8 points and 3.5 three-pointers in four Women's NIT games, over four points better than her season average. Junior Ivory Crawford also flashed potential last season, scoring in double figures in 21 of 33 games and leading Illinois in scoring four times - including a 32-point outburst against Cleveland State on Nov. 18.
More Records on Horizon for Moore
Illinois senior guard/forward Amber Moore broke the school single-season records for three-pointers made and attempted in 2012-13. She also bested Krista Reinking's career three-pointers attempted mark last season but fell just eight treys short of breaking Lori Bjork's career three-pointers made record (214) with 207. That would have been significant because Bjork broke Reinking's career threes made mark in 2008 after only three seasons. But Moore has 2013-14 to knock Bjork off the top of that record list and take over all four of the season and career three made and attempted list in school history. Another strong season could push Moore as high as second or third on the Big Ten career threes made list, but Kelly Mazzante's record of 357 appears to be insurmountable.
Plenty of New Faces in Illini Program
Illinois has a number of new faces in the gym this season, with seven newcomers joining seven returning players on the roster. Freshmen Kennedy Cattenhead, Taylor Gleason, Jacqui Grant, Sarah Livingston, Ashley McConnell and Mikaala Shackelford have joined the squad, as has junior Kyley Simmons, who transferred from Missouri. Simmons must sit out 2013-14 because of NCAA transfer rules. And Sarah Hartwell, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia Tech, will be part of the active roster this season and likely will start at one of the guard spots.
Been Caught Stealing
Last season, the Illini crushed the Big Ten record for steals in a season with 408 and also broke Big Ten records for steals (232) and steals per game (12.9) in a conference season. Illinois also broke the school record for steals in a conference game with 24 at Northwestern on Jan. 10. The Illini recorded double-digit steals in 25 of 33 games, including 18 of their last 21. While Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Adrienne Godbold and Karisma Penn were big factors in that defensive pressure, the Illini look to improve on a defense that allowed 66.2 points per game a year ago.
Crawford, Smith Ready for Larger Roles
With much of the preseason discussion about the Illini focusing on Amber Moore and Sarah Hartwell, junior guards Ivory Crawford and Alexis Smith are in position to take on larger roles in 2013-14. Crawford showed the ability to score in bunches with her 32-point performance against Cleveland State and a 25-point outburst at Michigan, and should thrive after being in head coach Matt Bollant's system for another year. Smith nearly broke the school record for assists in a season - about as quietly as one can do that - falling 10 shy of Michele Vossen's record of 173. While that load of distributing will be spread out more with Sarah Hartwell joining the backcourt, Smith can play an integral part in a successful season.
Illini Go Through Seal Team Training
During the offseason, the Illini took part in a unique form of team-building as they worked with SEAL Team Physical Training, a company founded by former Navy SEAL John McGuire. Players and coaches took part in workouts that included races, push-ups, sit-ups, water workouts and relays. The course is designed to foster team unity, mental toughness and togetherness, and is especially useful to groups like the Illini who have a large number of newcomers.
What's In a Name?
In April, it was announced that the Illini's home arena now will be called State Farm Center after being named Assembly Hall for its first 50 years. The University of Illinois and State Farm announced a 30-year, $60 million naming rights agreement that is the largest in the nation for a college-only facility. The agreement is one of the cornerstones of a projected $165 million renovation of the storied arena dubbed the "Illinois Renaissance" that will begin in earnest in spring 2014 and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.