BLOOMINGTON — As the second women’s basketball game of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin season approaches at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Shirk Center, Illinois Wesleyan coach Mia Smith isn’t afraid to call it “big.”
Her Titans (5-2) were chosen to win the league while Wednesday’s foe, Wheaton (4-1), was picked second. Both are 1-0 in the CCIW.
“We’re getting the two best teams in the conference right out of the gate (in Carthage last Saturday and now Wheaton),” Smith said.
“I think it’s extremely important that we win this one at home. In this conference, you’ve got to protect your home floor in case something goes awry when you’re out on the road.”
Wheaton’s lone loss was an 82-77 setback against the University of Chicago, a team the Titans beat, 77-56.
The Thunder will have a height advantage by starting 5-foot-9 Maggie Dansdill (15.2 ppg), 6-2 Hannah Frazier (14.6), 6-2 Devin Kyler (10.6), 5-10 Kelly Lawson (10.4) and 5-11 Jordan Myroth (5.2).
Smith will use her usual rotation, but may give extra minutes to taller players if necessary.
“Our priority against Wheaton will be to get them out of their half-court offense and not let them score in transition,” Smith said. “Their defense is normally pretty good so we’ve got to attack the basket harder.”
Smith will have Sydney Shanks guard Dansdill.
“There are very few players who can take on the best player from every team every night and Syd is one of them,” Smith said.
The Titans are coming off Monday’s 94-67 victory at Eureka College where Rebekah Ehresman didn’t miss a shot during a 13-point effort that sent her past 1,000 points for her career.
“Rebekah plays about as perfect as any player can,” Smith said. “She’s a player who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and always gives great effort.”
The 5-7 Ehresman averages 12.0 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 steals while 6-0 Maddie Merritt provides 13.4 points and 5.0 rebounds. Molly McGraw, a 5-8 leaper, averages 13.0 points.
At Eureka, IWU’s bench outscored its counterpart, 50-11.
“It was a great game because everybody got to play and they got to play valuable minutes, not just minutes here and there,” Smith said.
“I think our bench has outperformed every other team’s bench that we’ve played so far. Knowing I can go to my bench at any time is really a relief.”
Among the reserves making the most of extra minutes was 6-1 freshman Riley Brovelli, who had a team-high five assists to go with 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Because she was double teamed so much in high school (at LaSalle-Peru) she learned to relocate the ball very well,” Smith said. “I thought she played very well last night.”
The Titans made a season-high 11 3-pointers while shooting .458 from beyond the arc.
“There were times where we were impatient on offense and times when we were really patient and got some excellent looks,” said Smith, who watched Kelsey Walsberg make 3 of 3 3-pointers, Sam Munroe 3 of 6 and Ehresman 2 of 2.