IU women's basketball will look for a win to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive this Thursday when the team travels to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, to take on Illinois at 8 p.m. at the State Farm Center.
IU won two Big Ten road games last week, yet dropped two spots in the AP poll to No. 20. The fall in rankings speaks to the difficulty of its competition and more specifically to the 79-69 home loss to then-No. 13 Maryland.
From a strictly historical perspective, the Hoosiers should feel confident going into their game against the Illini.
IU leads the all-time series 42-29 and has won nine consecutive matchups, including an 83-42 win Jan. 6 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Illinois has had stretches of success against IU, most recently winning four of five games from 2010 to 2013. IU and Illinois have won 17 games each at Illinois, giving a home-court advantage to Illinois for Thursday’s game.
But because IU has won nine out of the last 10, it is clear who the favorite on paper is this time around.
Junior guard Jaelynn Penn has helped IU on scoring with her remarkable consistency throughout the last six games. She scored double digits in all six and shot at a 31% clip from three in those contests.
Penn led IU with 14 points in the 57-53 win over Nebraska last Sunday. Her scoring has helped as other usual contributors have been silenced in Big Ten play.
Penn and her teammates have struggled at the free throw line, shooting under 70% their last two games and just 61% in the loss to Maryland.
The Hoosiers will need better free throw shooting to assure a win in Urbana-Champaign, especially given the Illini's ability to shoot the three.
The Illini picked up just their second Big Ten win in their last game, in large part due to junior guard Petra Holesinska.
She had 28 points on 9-16 shooting as the Illini beat Penn State for the first time ever 70-66. Holesinska drained four 3-pointers as part of her effort, moving her into fifth all-time at Illinois with 151 threes.
Holesinska is currently third in the Big Ten with a 43.3 shooting percentage from three. She will be the focal point of the Illini offense when the Hoosiers roll into town.
The loss to Maryland last Thursday could be enough to keep the Hoosiers out of contention for one of the coveted 1-4 seeds that would give them home games for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Just two of IU’s five remaining opponents have winning records in Big Ten play. That makes it unlikely that one or two wins could put IU back into the top 16 conversation the way a win over Maryland would have.
However, if the Hoosiers win out over this lesser competition, it would leave a small chance for them to secure a Big Ten regular season title. Winning the title would require IU to not only remain perfect until the end of the season, but would also require Iowa, Maryland and Northwestern to lose at least three of their final games.
The odds of that happening are slim to none as Iowa and Maryland have pretty easy schedules down the stretch as well.
The only thing IU can control in the final few weeks of the regular season is its own results.