Senior point guard Alexis Jenkins has been a key to the Redbirds' early success. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
Stephanie Glance knows that her Illinois State women's basketball team is not ready for Missouri Valley Conference play. But the third-year coach does expect to learn a lot about her team this week.
And she should with back-to-back home games against Big 10 Conference opponents Michigan and Northwestern.
The Redbirds, winners of three straight for a 4-2 record, face Michigan (6-2) tonight before taking on Northwestern (6-1) Friday. Both games start at 7 o'clock at Redbird Arena with coverage on 1230 AM, 93.7 FM and wjbc.com.
"We're excited about this week," said Glance. "It's a Big 10 challenge Week for us. It's a good way to prepare for the conference schedule to take on BCS-level opponents. It's a great opportunity for our program to really measure where we are and to compete on that level."
While the Redbirds returned 10 players and four starters from last year's team, Glance is still working on fitting the pieces together.
"We've still had to combine new players (Janae Smith, who sat out last season after transferring, and three freshmen) who are gaining experience with players, who have experience," said Glance. "We're starting to have a consistent rotation, but we're still looking for continuity and rhythm offensively and defensively.
"At this point, I feel good about our progress. W are where we need to be right now. I do see improvement with each game and we are headed in the right direction."
Defense and rebounding have been sticking points for ISU in its first six games.
"Our defense has gotten better and that's something we've been working on," added Glance. "Our rhythm on offense still has to come. But we are scoring a lot of points, so that's a good indication."
The Redbirds have been led in scoring and rebounding by Jamie Russell and Smith. The 5-foot-8 Russell is averaging 17.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds, while Smith has 17.0 and 8.0 averages, respectively. The Redbirds also have gotten strong play from senior Candace Sykes since her return from a two-game suspension to start the year She is averaging 17.8 points.
"Jamie and Candace were due for big years and I think they are on track to have great years," said Glance. "Janae has been extremely productive on the offensive end and great on the boards. It's not really a surprise, but a confirmation of what we thought she could do."
Glance also had praise for freshman Alexis Foley, sophomore Maddie Oliver and senior point guard Alexis Jenkins.
"Alexis has really emerged," added Glance. "She's always wanted to be productive and help the team in any way she can. As a senior point guard, her line is great. She's having great floor games night-in-and-night-out and that's been a big plus for us."
Jenkins is averaging nearly five assists per game, along with seven points.
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org