Women’s hoops seeks ‘aggressive’ play

By Frank Gogola

Women’s basketball opens its season in search of establishing its identity.

The Huskies will get their first crack at that when they host the Illinois State Redbirds 6 p.m. Friday at the Convocation Center in both teams’ season opener.

The Huskies have implemented an offense comprised of movement and spacing to free up players for better looks.

“I think it’s a very aggressive” offense, said head coach Kathi Bennett. The “movement and spacing are pretty constant. And then it’s a pattern, but it’s not. You have reads off of it. I think our players know where to go, what to do, which helps them, and once they get used to it they’re going to be able to make plays off that action.”

The offense’s preseason go-around didn’t go over well in the Nov. 8 exhibition game against the Lewis Flyers as NIU managed only 49 points.

“Offensively, we’re just really inconsistent,” Bennett said. “I feel we’ve got better looks than we have in the past because of the offense we’re running; it’s just you have to have the mentality [that] you run offense to score. We have to do a better job of, of course, finishing our shots and hunting our shots and being aggressive within the offense. Finishing’s a big deal for us; we got to do a much better job on that end.”

The Redbirds are coming off a season with a slightly deceiving 10-20 record. They went 8-10 in conference play and lost in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Illinois State is led by 5-foot-10 junior forward Octavia Crump. Crump led the Redbirds in rebounds per game (6.2) and was second in points per game (9.1) last season.

“Crump, she’s very athletic, uses her body really well,” said redshirt senior guard Danny Pulliam. “We expect her to just come at us athletically and be very physical. It’s going to probably be an up-and-down game, but we’re going to try to make it a half-court game, try to get them to slow down.”

Also engineering the Redbirds’ offense is 5-foot-8 junior guard Stekara Hall. Hall finished in the top four on the team last season in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

“Crump is one of the best posts we’ll face all year,” Bennett said. “Very explosive, very quick jumper. It’s not only her going to the rim, but it’s also her offensive rebounding and put backs. And then Hall, their guard — those two [Crump and Hall] are legit; they’re two of the best players we’ll face — she really can get hot from the 3[-point line], and she’s great off the dribble, especially going right.”

It’s not just Crump and Hall. Bennett said the Redbirds “have a lot of good role players” and are “a well-balanced team.”

The Huskies’ defense has been hampered by the loss of senior guard Amanda Corral, who Bennett said she expects back in the first week of December. For now, every possession — offense and defense — will be critical for the Huskies.

“It’s just the intensity level and the focus level has got to be for 40 minutes,” Bennett said. “We have to play every possession like it’s our last. We do that — and that’s hard to do — but that’s going to be our key. It sounds simple, but we have to be in every possession.”