Junior Jenna Smith surpassed 1,000 career points in the Illini season-opener against IPFW.
Nov. 14, 2008
FORT WAYNE, Ind. - Jolette Law's Fighting Illini were impressive in a 64-44 season-opening road victory at IPFW Friday afternoon at the Gates Sports Complex in Fort Wayne, Ind. Junior All-America center Jenna Smith poured in 29 points to surpass the 1,000 career point mark and Lacey Simpson had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine steals to nearly record the second triple-double in school history.
Illinois (1-0) jumped all over the Mastodons early, taking a 14-3 lead in the opening minutes and never looking back. Smith took control right from the tip with eight points in the first six minutes, then Smith and Simpson combined to dominate the rest of the way as the Orange and Blue opened up a 44-21 lead at halftime. The duo combined to hit their first 10 shots (Smith four and Simpson six) and piled up 31 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and six steals on 15-of-18 shooting in the first half.
Illinois pulled away even more in the second half, opening with a 12-3 run to make the lead 56-24, and then coasting from there. Smith scored 9 of the first 11 UI points in the second half and had more points than IPFW, 25-24, when she took a breather at the 10:51 mark of the second half. She returned to game at the 7:51 mark and would score her 1,000th career point on a lay-up with 6:12 remaining in the game. She is the 22nd player overall and is the seventh fastest in UI history to reach the milestone, doing it in 66 games. She finished the game with 1,001 points.
After the game, Smith gave all the credit for her career milestone to others. "I think my teammates were more excited about it than I was," said Smith of reaching the 1,000 point barrier. "I couldn't have done it without them over the years or without the help of the coaches, fans and my parents. I'm thankful for everyone who's helped me along the way, and of course it feels even better that we got a win."
Smith, hit 12-of-17 from the field and added eight rebounds and three assists to go along with her 29 points.
Simpson, meanwhile, nearly joined Kim Brombolich in the UI record books as the only players in school history to record a triple-double. The junior from Zion, Ill., had the hot hand all game, hitting 8-of-9 from the field and finishing one steal and one rebound shy of the feat. She eclipsed her previous career high in steals, which was seven against South Carolina last season, and nearly equaled Shavonna Hunter's school record of 10 thefts in a game in 1999.
"I didn't know until after the game that I was close (to a triple-double)," Simpson said. "But I have no regrets, I know I did everything I could today and that there will be more chances to get one. It just feels good to get a win. I'm trying to bring that fire and energy that I had last year at the Big Ten Tournament and use it to pick-up where I left off."
Five players made their UI debuts on Friday and contributed to the win. Freshmen guards Macie Blinn and Fabiola Josil earned starts in their first collegiate games. Blinn hit her first career three-pointer less than three minutes into the game and finished with five points and three assists, while Josil had two points and two assists in her debut. Redshirt freshman Lydia McCully (five points, two steals), junior college transfer Whitney Toone (four points, five rebounds) and freshman Lana Rukavina (five rebounds) all saw action in their first games as Illini. Freshman Eboni Mitchell did not play due to injury, while senior Chelsea Gordon chipped in seven rebounds despite an off shooting night.
As a team, the Illini shot 54 percent in the first half and 48 percent for the game while holding IPFW (0-1) to just 29 percent from the field. Illinois also held a big edge in rebounds, 41-25, over the hosts.
"To start the season, I wanted to continue to build on where we left off last year," Law said. "Our leadership by the upperclassmen has been great and they did a good job of getting the freshmen ready to go today. If we can put two halves together, I think we'll go further than last year. But we need to have that killer instinct and learn to finish games well."
Illinois returns to Champaign-Urbana this Sunday, Nov. 16, for its home opener against Eastern Illinois at Noon CT. The EIU game is the first of a three-game homestand that includes Missouri coming to Assembly Hall on Wed., Nov. 19, and Temple coming to town on Sunday, Nov. 23.