The Illinois Fighting Illini will travel to Toledo, Ohio on Thursday to play the Toledo Rockets in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
The Fighting Illini won their second game over the Eastern Illinois Panthers, 62-54, in the second round. The Illini and Panthers played a back and forth game, but Illinois was able to get the win in the end. The Illini had four players score in double-figures against Eastern Illinois. Those players were Adrienne GodBold (10 points), Ivory Crawford (11 points), Amber Moore (16 points), and Karisma Penn (19 points).
This is Illinois’ eighth appearance in the WNIT. There last appearance was in 2010 where they advanced to the quarterfinals (their deepest run in school history). They are 10-7 all-time in the tournament, but 2-5 on the road in the tournament.
The Toledo Rockets come into Thursday’s third round game with an overall record of 29-3 and a MAC conference record of 15-1. They lost to Central Michigan in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament. In their second round game of the WNIT, Toledo defeated Youngstown State, 61-43. Toledo is the defending WNIT Champion from 2011.
The Rockets have three players averaging double-digit points so far this season.
They are senior Naama Shafir (12.9 points per game), junior Andola Dortch (10.7 points per game), and sophomore Inma Zanoguera (10.1 points per game).
Although, the Rockets are known more for their defense rather than their offense this season. They are allowing opponents to score only 51.2 points per game and holding foes to 50 or fewer points in 20 of 32 total games. They do this by holding a +4.4 turnover margin, averaging 10.3 steals per game, and out-rebounding its foes by 5.6 boards per game.
Dortch has the most steals on the team with 85 (averages 2.7 steals per game). The leading blocker for Toledo is Yolanda Richardson. She is averaging 1.3 blocks per game this season.
Toledo leads the league in rebounding margin and turnover margin.
This will be the first meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Rockets. According to fightingillini.com, “Illinois is 27-13 all-time against MAC teams, with the most recent meeting coming in the WNIT first round when the Illini beat Miami (Ohio).”
The Rockets have an RPI of 39 according to WarrenNolan.com,but a schedule strength of 185 out of 345 Division I teams. Some key games for them this season were a win and two losses against NCAA tournament qualifier Central Michigan, a loss to NCAA tournament participant Dayton, and a win over WNIT participant Marquette.
This will be Illinois’ toughest test so far in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Toledo is a very skilled basketball team and rode a 15-game winning streak from January 13th to March 6th. They play great defense and still have the offensive tools to get the ball into the basket.
However, head coach Matt Bollant might serve as an ace in the hole for the Fighting Illini. This will not be his first meeting against this Toledo team. While he was at Green Bay, his Phoenix team played the Rockets in Toledo.
If Illinois wins Thursday’s game, they will play the winner between Kansas State and Ball State. Those two teams will also play on March 28th.
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