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Women's basketball Game 16 preview: Rutgers at Illinois, 6 p.m. Wednesday

Jan. 17—Lineups

Illinois (7-8, 1-4 Big Ten)StartersP Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Makira Cook Sr. 5-6 14.0 Cincinnati

G Genesis Bryant Sr. 5-6 14.5 Jonesboro, Ga.

G Adalia McKenzie Jr. 5-10 9.6 Brooklyn Park, Minn.

F Kendall Bostic Sr. 6-2 12.2 Kokomo, Ind.

C Camille Hobby Sr. 6-3 7.7 Jacksonville, Fla.

FYI: Cook has averaged 17.0 points and 5.0 assists during the last six games for the Illini with the All-Big Ten preseason point guard returning to form after missing nearly three weeks with a concussion in November. That the senior guard is also shooting 40.9 percent from the field during that recent stretch is an improvement from how Cook started the season (34.7 percent shooting during her first six games back from injury).

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

F Brynn Shoup-Hill Jr. 6-3 4.7 Goshen, Ind.

G Gretchen Dolan Fr. 5-11 2.8 Buffalo, N.Y.

F Shay Bollin So. 6-3 2.0 Raynham, Mass.

Rutgers (6-13, 0-6 Big Ten)

Starters

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Lisa Thompson Fr. 5-9 7.9 Joliet

G Mya Petticord So. 5-9 9.6 Detroit

G Jillian Huerter Fr. 6-0 6.6 Clifton Park, N.Y.

G/F Destiny Adams Jr. 6-3 14.0 Manchester, N.J.

C Kassondra Brown Gr. 6-2 8.1 Abington, Pa.

FYI: The Scarlet Knights have played without star guard Kaylene Smikle for the past four games due to what Rutgers coach Coquese Washington has described as a "medical issue." The 6-foot sophomore Smikle is Rutgers' scoring leader at 16.1 points per game .

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G/F Antonia Bates So. 6-3 3.5 Easton, Pa.

C Chyna Cornwell Sr. 6-3 8.7 Conover, N.C.

G Erica Lafayette Sr. 6-0 1.4 Baton Rouge, La.

Details

Site: State Farm Center (15,544); Champaign.

Radio: Mike Koon will have the call on WDWS 1400-AM & 93.9-FM.

Streaming: BTN Plus (subscription).

Series: Rutgers leads 9-4.

Last meeting: Illinois won 81-55 against Rutgers on March 2, 2023 in Minneapolis.

FYI: The Illini collected three wins against the Scarlet Knights last season. Before that three-game sweep during the 2022-23 season, Illinois' only other win against Rutgers came in 2017 with Nancy Fahey as coach when the Illini rolled to a 78-41 win in Champaign. Illinois' three wins last season against the Scarlet Knights were at State Farm Center (80-62), in the regular-season finale in Piscataway, N.J. (75-53) and lastly at the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis when Makira Cook had 24 points and Genesis Bryant added 21 points in a 26-point win.

Beat writer Joe Vozzelli's storylines

Hobby, Bostic giving Illini strong frontcourt duo

The production Illinois got out of Camille Hobby in Sunday's 93-52 win at Northwestern with 19 points and seven rebounds followed a four-game stretch against UTEP, Indiana, Wisconsin and Nebraska when the North Carolina State transfer scored a combined 19 points. It's been an up-and-down season for the 6-foot-3 fifth-year center— as it has been for a lot of Illini players — with Hobby adjusting to a new team and new surroundings in her final college basketball season. Still, the two-post look with Hobby at the 5 position and Kendall Bostic at the 4 has added a new wrinkle. One that Illinois coach Shauna Green seems content on using when the matchups dictate that frontcourt lineup. Like against Rutgers on Wednesday night. "The thing that was great (on Sunday against Northwestern) is (Hobby) produced right away in terms of offensively," the Illinois coach said. " That instilled confidence in us of, 'Hey, we have another scorer,' so we're really happy with her progression. She played with a lot of confidence, and we're going to need that going forward. "

Practice makes perfect amid first-quarter issues

This season, perhaps more than any Green can remember as a head coach, has challenged her to develop creative ways in practice to address issues that have popped up in games. That reality set in as Green looked to solve the slow starts that had plagued Illinois throughout the start of Big Ten play. The win against Northwestern on Sunday in Evanston was a step in the right direction, with the Illini leading 11-4 midway through the first quarter at Welsh-Ryan Arena and really building from there. "The last week, we have been doing a 10-minute scrimmage early in practice that we call our first quarter against the (male practice players) simulating whoever we're playing," Green said. "The week before (against Wisconsin and Nebraska), we lost both of those (scrimmages) going into those games. We won by seven the one going into Northwestern. They did it in practice and they did it in the game. ... Trying to create opportunities where they get confidence in practice to be able to carry it over to a game."

Keeping Rutgers off offensive boards the priority

Green made it clear what she sees as the No. 1 key to a win against Rutgers: holding the Scarlet Knights in check on the offensive boards. That was one of Illinois' downfalls in the 67-61 home loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 7, with the Badgers collecting 16 offensive rebounds and turning them into 13 second-chance points. Rutgers, meanwhile, ranks third in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding with 13.5 boards per game. "You have to box these guys out," Green said. "You can't start leaking out on these guys, because that's literally sometimes their best offense is missing and getting O-boards and (that leading to) putbacks and/or fouls. We have to really be disciplined on our box outs ... and they're big bodied. But that's the key, if we can do our job on the boards, we'll be in a position to win the game with five minutes left, which is always what we want."

The News-Gazette's Pick

Illinois 80, Rutgers 62This is the perfect chance for the Illini to carry momentum from the Northwestern win, and as Makira Cook said on Sunday in her postgame interview, let it propel Illinois forward. The fact is with the way the Scarlet Knights have struggled as the Big Ten's only remaining winless team, the Illini should deliver another comfortable victory on Wednesday night (N-G prediction record: 10-5).