After jumping out to its best start since the 2012-2013 season, the Illinois State University women’s basketball team (14-9, 6-6 MVC) has struggled as of late, losing five of its last eight games in conference play.
The Redbirds now find themselves in fifth place in the Missouri Valley Conference, trailing No. 24 Missouri State University (21-3, 11-1 MVC), Bradley University (19-4, 10-2 MVC), Drake University(18-7, 10-3 MVC) and University of Northern Iowa (15-9, 7-6 MVC) with six games remaining before the postseason begins.
The schedule won’t get any easier for the ’Birds, who will hit the road next week to take on UNI and Drake before hosting nationally ranked Missouri State at Redbird Arena on Feb. 27. ISU is a combined 2-5 against the top four teams in the Valley so far this season.
So, is it time to hit the panic button for Illinois State?
I think panicking during this rough patch in the season would be an overreaction, but I do believe now is the time for the ’Birds to take their game to the next level in this final stretch of the season if they’re serious about being a top contender in the conference.
A strength of the Redbirds this season has been the dynamic scoring duo of TeTe Maggett and Lexi Wallen. The pair of seniors have carried ISU for large parts of games this season with Wallen averaging 17.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and Maggett averaging 15.8 points per game.
One of the reasons for Illinois State’s struggles has been the decline of Maggett during this tough stretch. The North Chicago native has made just 21 of 75 (28%) field goals in the past five games.
Regardless of her struggles, the ’Birds will still rely heavily on Maggett’s play and ability to take over games as the season continues, and they should. Now is not the time to lose trust in arguably your best overall player during the tough times.
Another player Illinois State will count on down the stretch will be Juliunn Redmond. The junior has been coming into her own as of late, being named MVC Newcomer of the Week for the third time in a row while averaging 10.7 points per game.
The top two scorers for ISU currently rank in the top 10 in the Missouri Valley in points per game (Wallen-second, Maggett-seventh).
Ultimately, I think Illinois State’s success this season will come down to the contributions received outside of their top three scorers.
When the ’Birds have been at their best this season, it’s been when their role players have stepped up to take the pressure off Maggett and Wallen.
Freshman Mary Crompton who is considered a three-point specialist has had an up and down start to her first collegiate season, averaging 8.7 points per game this season, but has shot just 3 for 22 from the field in her past three home games.
In an offense which struggles at times to find rhythm, the sharpshooter will need to increase her scoring efforts down this final stretch of the season. To ask a freshman to hit big shots in crunch time is a lot in my opinion, but regardless Crompton is a competitor, and I think it will make her a better player down the stretch.
ISU head coach Kristen Gillespie has her team bought in which is part of the reason why Illinois State got off to a 10-3 start to this season.
Coming into her third season at the helm, Gillespie has shown her ability to make adjustments for the team which has led to improved play, and these next three games against the top teams in conference will be her biggest test thus far.
While we don’t know the outcomes, one thing can be guaranteed, she’ll have her team competing until the final buzzer.