The Illinois State women’s basketball roster lists Emily Hanley’s height at 6-foot. Literally, it’s a stretch.
“She’s probably 5-10,” confessed ISU coach Stephanie Glance.
The “6-1” next to Kenyatta Shelton’s name is more accurate. Still, neither Shelton nor Hanley could match Arkansas’ front line of 6-3 Sarah Watkins, 6-2 Jamesha Townsend and 6-2 Ashley Daniels heading into Sunday’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal.
On paper, that is.
On Doug Collins Court, they measured up anyway.
It’s what they do.
Hanley and Shelton stared down the Razorbacks inside — though not quite eye to eye — in ISU’s 60-49 victory.
Hanley had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Shelton added eight points and 11 boards.
The senior duo outrebounded Watkins, Townsend and Daniels 23-11, keying a pivotal 47-36 advantage on the boards, and almost outscored them.
Watkins had eight of her 16 points in the final 10 minutes, after ISU led 52-31, and her front line edged Hanley and Shelton, 21-19. It wasn’t nearly enough to matter.
“I feel like Yatti and I have gone against bigger and stronger all season,” Hanley said. “Coach told us today if we go after the boards, they’re not going to box us out too well. She said, ‘If you go after them, you’ll be able to get them.’ I think we took that to heart.”
It helped take the heart from Arkansas, a Southeastern Conference team that got down early and stayed there.
Hanley saw frustration in the Razorbacks from the start. Shelton could “sense it and hear it.”
The visitors’ presumed advantage inside never materialized, and yet another WNIT victory turned out to be easy for ISU.
Three of the four this year have been, the exception a second-round win at Wisconsin (62-59). The rest have come by double digits in the Redbirds’ third straight run to the WNIT semifinals.
“We don’t expect it to be easy. I don’t think it’s easy,” Shelton said. “We just play defense and it (the lead) is there for us.”
Sunday was the third game in a row Hanley and Shelton have given up size and/or muscle up front. Going against 6-6 Nicolle Lewis (a 2010 graduate) in practice in recent years helped prepare them.
Among Hanley’s lessons was the value of quick, side-to-side moves against tall bodies and long arms.
“That took a long time to learn,” she said. “I got blocked many times before I learned, ‘go around, not through.’ ”
Glance calls that playing to your strength. She sees it all the time from Hanley and Shelton.
Go to Wednesday’s semifinal against Southern California (7:05 p.m. at Redbird Arena) and you’ll likely see it, too.
“They really understand how to play position defense and get their player out of their comfort zone,” Glance said. “Yatti can jump and leap with players who can jump and leap. Em has to box out.
“She has to have inside position. She has to make contact because she’s undersized.”
She would be at 6-foot. She really is at 5-10.
Yet, not much seems to faze Hanley et al this time of year. A deep run in the WNIT has become a Redbird rite of spring.
“It feels right, you know?” Shelton said.
“We’re not a first-timer,” Hanley said. “We’re comfortable playing bigger teams and knocking them off.”
The bigger the better.