NORMAL - The season started with a journey to DeKalb, followed by two visits to Chicago in a span of four days.
Needless to say, the friendly confines of Redbird Arena have never looked better for the well-traveled Illinois State women's basketball team entering today's long-awaited 2:05 p.m. home opener against Chicago State.
"I know the girls are excited to get back home," said ISU coach Robin Pingeton.
"You just have to grow up in a hurry when you open with four games on the road and that travel.
"I know I was exhausted, and I can just imagine how the players felt making two trips to Chicago in a week."
The Redbirds are 2-2 after splitting a pair of games in last weekend's DePaul Invitational. ISU opened the tournament with a 73-63 win over Stony Brook before suffering a 94-60 loss to the No. 19-ranked Blue Demons in the championship game.
"The last 10 minutes Stony Brook came back and took the lead with 1:40 to go, so it was a good opportunity for our kids to show their poise in a pressure situation and knock down some key shots at some key times," Pingeton said.
"I think the (DePaul) score was a little deceiving. They definitely exposed some of our weaknesses. It seemed like any time we had breakdowns they really took advantage of it. We certainly showed our youth at times, but other times we played with them and looked good doing it."
ISU was led by all-tournament selection Kristi Cirone, who averaged 11.5 points, 8.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the two games despite being mired in a season-long shooting slump.
"She had a great assist-to-turnover ratio and did a great job for us from the free throw line," Pingeton said. "I know her shot is going to come around. She knocks them down consistently in practice.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in her. When she gets back into her game it's going to make our entire team look better."
Freshman forward and reigning Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week Kenyatta Shelton posted the second double-double of her career against Stony Brook. Shelton leads ISU in scoring (12.8) and ranks second in rebounding (7.3).
"It's been exciting to see how Kenyatta has improved every game," Pingeton said. "For her to have her second double-double in just four games of her college career speaks volumes about both the kind of potential she has and the kind of impact she can make."
ISU has also been receiving solid contributions from freshman forward Maggie Krick (10.0 ppg) and junior center Lashawn Johnson (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).
"We need to get a little bit more consistent with some things offensively, and I think that's going to come," Pingeton said. "We're still looking for that right rotation. It's a process, but we're definitely getting there.
"We're still really upbeat and confident about the season. I really think it can be a great year for us. We've got to make some adjustments and continue to improve, but I think we have a very solid team."
Chicago State, which suffered a 70-63 home loss to ISU in last year's season opener, also enters with a 2-2 record. Senior center Chandra Timberlake (13.0 ppg) leads four Cougars averaging in double figures.
"They gave us a run for our money last year and they have a couple of very talented players," Pingeton said. "They're so athletic, but I think this year athletically we can be in the mix with some other teams that way."
ISU women vs. Chicago State
Time: 2:05 p.m.
Site: Redbird Arena, Normal
Records: ISU 2-2; Chicago State 2-2