Lacey Simpson has been one of the top all-around players in the conference this season.
Feb. 3, 2009
On The Air
Television: Big Ten Network (Tracy Warren, play-by-play, and Jenean Ford, analysis)
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM 1400 (Dave Loane and Mike Koon)
*Tape-delayed after Illini men's basketball, Live on fightingillini.com (all-access subscription required)
Livestats: fightingillini.com GameTracker
Illinois trails 31-26 overall, but leads 15-10 in Champaign
Last meeting: Illinois 55, Michigan State 41 on March 8, 2008 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals in Indianapolis
Illinois: Jolette Law, 26-31 overall and at Illinois (second season)
MSU: Suzy Merchant, 239-141 overall (14th season) and 40-21 at Michigan State (second season)
National Girls and Women in Sports Day - Meet & greet and autograph session with several Fighting Illini women's teams at halftime
Opening Tip: The Fighting Illini (6-16, 2-9) will be looking for their third straight victory Thursday night when Michigan State (15-7, 8-3) comes to town for an 8 p.m. tip. Illinois is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since November after topping Indiana on Jan. 25 and Northwestern on the road last Thursday. The Spartans are looking to rebound from a 60-44 loss at Minnesota on Monday night.
On the Tube: Thursday's Illinois-Michigan State game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network with Tracy Warren and Jenean Ford calling the action. It is the ninth of at least 11 Illini games broadcast this year by BTN, CBS or ESPN2.
Dynamic Duo: Juniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson have been Illinois' go-to players all season, combining to average 28.5 points and 17.6 rebounds per game. Smith has seven double-doubles on the year and Simpson has six, making Illinois the only team in the Big Ten with two players that have five or more double-doubles. Smith and Simpson have upped their game even more as of late, as they combine to average average 28.2 points and 24.0 rebounds in the last five games, and have seven total double-doubles during that span.
The Big 5-0-0: Illinois' victory over Northwestern on Jan. 29 was the 500th in program history. Illinois has an all-time record of 500-485 in 35 years of women's basketball. Gordon Out: Illinois' lone senior, Chelsea Gordon, tore the ACL in her right knee in the Jan. 25 victory over Indiana and will miss the rest of the season. The injury ends Gordon's UI career after the Erie, Pa., native saw action in 116 games, the sixth most in school history. Gordon scored 680 points (5.9 ppg), grabbed 360 rebounds (3.1 rpg) and was twice named the team's Best Defensive Player during her Illinois career.
Dominance Over Northwestern Continues: Illinois' victory at Northwestern on Jan. 29 was the Illini's 18th straight over the Wildcats and their 10th straight in Evanston. NU has not beaten Illinois since Feb. 5, 1999, and the Orange and Blue have not lost to the Wildcats on the road since Feb. 23, 1996.
Law Inks No. 3 Recruiting Class: Jolette Law signed the best recruiting class in school history on Nov. 12, the first day of the fall signing period. The class was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz on signing day, and moved to No. 3 at the end of the early signing period. See page 6 for more information on the recruits.
What to Watch For
Jenna Smith needs nine points to move into 11th on the UI career scoring list and 18 to move up to 10th
A double-digit scoring night for Smith would make it 31 straight games she's scored at least 10 points
A double-double for Smith would give her 30 for her career
Lacey Simpson needs 14 rebounds for 600 in her career and nine assists for 300 in her career
Scouting the Spartans
Michigan State enters Thursday's game with a conference record of 8-3 that puts it in a three-way tie with Indiana and Purdue for second place in the Big Ten. The Spartans had their six-game winning streak snapped on Monday with a 60-44 road loss to Minnesota.
Junior 6-9 center Allyssa DeHaan is the catalyst for Michigan State on both the offensive and defensive ends, with averages of 10.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Junior forward Aisha Jefferson leads the Spartans in scoring at 11.3 ppg, while four other players contribute at least 6.0 ppg in a balanced attack.
Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the Big Ten, owning a rebounding margin of +9.5 over its opponents. The Spartans also own the conference lead in offensive rebounds (15.27), defensive rebounds (28.14), rebounding offense (43.4) and rebounding defense (34.0) while blocking 5.64 shots per game.
The Illinois-Michigan State Series: Michigan State leads the all-time series 31-26 while the Illini own a 15-10 advantage in games played in Champaign. The Spartans won two of the three meetings between the schools in 2007-08, winning both regular season games before Illinois won 55-41 in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Thursday is the only regular season match-up between the two teams this season.
Illinois has faced the 11th toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to RealTimeRPI.com. The Illini's 11 non-conference opponents have a combined record of 154-77 (.667) through games of Feb. 2, and overall, their opponents combine for a 298-168 record (.639).
Smith is Double Trouble
Doubling Up: Junior All-American Jenna Smith had her seventh double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 boards in the win over Northwestern on Jan. 29th, her fourth double-double in the last five games. Smith now has 29 double-doubles for her career, which is tied for the Big Ten's active lead and is fourth on the Illinois career list. Her five double-doubles in Big Ten play this season lead the conference, and her seven overall tie for second behind only to Ohio State's Jantel Lavender.
Perfect 10? Smith continues to climb up the Illinois career scoring list. Her 19 points at Northwestern last Thursday give the junior 1,364 career points and move her past Cindy Dallas (1,345) and into 12th place on the UI list. Smith needs nine points against MSU to move into 11th place and 18 to crack the UI all-time top-10.
A Model of Consistency: Smith has scored in double-figures in all 22 games this year and in 30 straight games dating back to last season, the second-longest current streak in the Big Ten and the seventh-longest in the nation. In all, she has scored in double-figures in 58 of the last 59 games dating back to her freshman year.
Current Consecutive Games of 10+ points (Through games of 02/2/09) Rk Player, School Streak Next Game 1. Robyn Fairbanks, Utah Valley St. 71 Feb. 7 2. Megan Frazee, Liberty 57 Feb. 9 3. Morgan Warburton, Utah 54 Feb. 4 4. Jantel Lavender, Ohio State 52 Feb. 5 5. Sade Logan, Robert Morris 48 Feb. 7 6. Andrea Riley, Oklahoma State 45 Feb. 5 7. Jenna Smith, Illinois 30 Feb. 5 8. Carlee Cassidy, Md-Bltmore Cty 28 Feb. 8 9. Chante Black, Duke 24 Feb. 5 Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh 24 Feb. 3
Cleaning the Glass: Smith has dominated the glass as of late, averaging 12.4 rebounds per game in the last five contests. On Jan. 15 against, Iowa, she pulled down a season-high 18 boards, the third-most in the Big Ten this season, including 12 on the offensive end. She followed that up with 12 boards Jan. 18 at Wisconsin, 15 on Jan. 25 against Indiana and 12 at Northwestern on Jan. 29. Smith currently sits eighth on the Illinois career rebounding list with 751 boards. Ashley Berggren is next on the list in seventh-place with 779.
Block Party: Smith moved into second place on the Illinois career blocks list with a pair of swats at Ohio State on Jan. 15. After adding one more on Jan. 29 at NU, the junior now has 140 blocks in less than three seasons. At her current average of 1.91 blocks per game, Kendra Gantt's 24-year old school record of 156 is within reach this season depending on how many games the Illini play. Smith currently ranks third in the Big Ten and 51st in the nation in blocks.
She Keeps Going and Going: Despite being the focal point of every defense this season and seeing constant double and triple teams, Smith has been the most durable player in the Big Ten. She leads the league in minutes at 38.4 per game and has played all 40 minutes 12 times this season. Smith has sat out just seven out of 440 minutes during conference play and just 40 out of 885 minutes throughout the season.
Smith Named to Naismith Watch List: Junior center Jenna Smith has been named to the Naismith Award Watch list. She is one of 50 players nominated for the award, which is the most prestigious national award presented annually to college basketball's player of the year.
Grand Game: Smith went over 1,000 career points when she poured in 29 during the season-opener at IPFW, becoming the 22nd player in school history to reach the milestone and the seventh fastest to do so, accomplishing the feat in 66 games.
JennaSmith13.com: Stay up-to-date on Smith's season and her quest for All-America and Big Ten Player of the Year honors at jennasmith13.com. The site will be updated throughout the season with videos, photos, stats, news and much more.
Simpson Stealing the Show
All-Around Player: Junior forward Lacey Simpson is one of the most versatile players not only in the Big Ten, but in the nation. She is one of just two Big Ten players to appear in the Big Ten rankings in nine categories, joining Purdue's Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. Simpson ranks in the top-10 in eight of those nine categories and leads the league in steals at 3.18 per game. She is the only player to rank in the league's top-10 in rebounding (third), assists (eighth) and steals (first).
Picking Up Where She Left Off: After stellar performances at the 2008 Big Ten Tournament and WNIT, Simpson has stepped her game up even more this season. Her 10.7 points per game is nearly four points higher than her average last season and, defensively, she has taken it to another level. Simpson nearly had the second triple-double in school history with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine steals in the season-opener. She has tallied six double-doubles on the season, including four in Big Ten play, which is tied for second in the league in conference action.
Climbing the Chart: Simpson already sits in third place on the Illinois all-time steals list with 228 in less than three seasons, behind only school record holder Allison Curtin (252) and Jill Estey (246). At her current average of 3.2 steals per game, Curtin's school mark could be within reach this season depending on how many games the Illini play. Simpson leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th in the nation in steals per game (3.18). Her nine steals in the season-opener vs. IPFW set a new career-high and equaled the second most in a game in school history.
Working Woman: Simpson, a fourth-year junior, finished up her class work during the fall semester and is working as an intern in the Illinois Athletic Public Relations office this semester to complete her undergraduate degree. Simpson plans on taking the GRE this spring and beginning graduate school next year during her final year of athletic eligibility.
Lacing Up with Lacey
This semester, junior Lacey Simpson will be writing a weekly blog to keep Fighting Illini fans up-to-date on what's going on behind-the-scenes. In this week's installment of "Lacing Up," Simpson talks about her road trip to Ohio during the bye week and the Illini coming together as a team. Check it out at www.fightingillini.com.
Third Option: Freshman guard Macie Blinn has shown flashes of being a dynamic scorer for the Orange and Blue. The sharpshooter from Greenville, Ohio, has been Illinois' third leading scorer in Big Ten play, averaging 6.6 points per game while knocking down a team-high 11 threes. Blinn has reached double figures five times this season, including a 16-point outburst on Jan. 3 against Minnesota and a 14 point night against Missouri on Nov. 19. She tied her career-high with three three-pointers at Northwestern last Thursday and has shown signs of becoming another scoring threat to complement Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson, but consistency will be the key for that to become reality.
A Block to Remember: It took Blinn 20 games to record her first-career blocked shot and there's no doubt she'll always remember it. Blinn stuffed Ohio State All-American center Jantel Lavender on a breakaway during the Jan. 22 game in Columbus for her first swat. The block resulted in a jump ball and gave the Illini an extra possession.
McCully On Point
Beating the Buzzer: Point guard Lydia McCully hit a 15-foot jumper from the right elbow with 3.4 seconds left to give the Illini a 63-61 victory at Milwaukee on Dec. 10. It was the first game-winning shot for the redshirt freshmen, who finished the game with 13 points.
Triple Threat: McCully has made a case of her own to become the team's third scoring option after Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson. She has scored double-figures nine times this season, including a career-high 15 points against South Dakota State. One night later against #10 Maryland, she hit 4-of-7 from three-point land for 12 points. She leads the team from downtown on the season, hitting 23 threes at a 34 percent clip, and is third on the team and third among Big Ten freshmen in scoring at 7.7 points per game.
Freshman guard Fabiola Josil has stepped up her offensive game as of late. Josil recently had a 10 point performance in Illinois' upset over Indiana on Jan. 25 is averaging over six points per game and shooting 53 percent in the last four contests, well above her season averages of 3.7 ppg and 38 percent shooting.
Hall of Fame Hobin
Assistant to the Head Coach Diane Hobin will be honored by her alma mater this Friday when she's inducted into the Hofstra University Athletics Hall of Fame. Hobin was one of the most versatile athletes in Hofstra Athletics history, excelling in three sports - basketball, softball and field hockey - for the Pride from 1991-96.
Youth is No Excuse
With seven years of Division I experience on the team this year (one senior and two juniors), Illinois is one of the youngest teams in the country. In fact, Illinois is tied with Tennessee as the fourth youngest team in the nation in terms of least returning experience. Now with lone senior Chelsea Gordon out for the season, the Illini have just four years of experience available to play. Click HERE for the Big Ten Tournament website.
Get in the Pink Zone on Feb. 22
Join Illinois in the "Pink Zone" on Feb. 22 when Penn State comes to Assembly Hall for a 2 p.m. tip. The Fighting Illini will wear pink uniforms to raise awareness for breast cancer and all fans that wear a pink shirt will get in for free. There will be a raffle for a pink I Pod and an autographed basketball, among other items, to raise money for Coaches vs. Cancer. Click HERE for Illinois' Pink Zone website.
Big Ten Tourney Tickets - Get `Em While They're Hot
Last season, Jolette Law's Fighting Illini squad went on an electrifying run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Don't miss the action this year. All- and single-session tickets for the 2009 Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament are now available. Single-session tickets are available for $12-16 and can be purchased at the Conseco Fieldhouse box office, Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 317-239-5151. All-session passes can be purchased for $65 and are available at each of the above locations and at each of the university ticket offices.
Following Thursday's game against the Spartans, the Illini will head to Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday for a 12:30 p.m. ET game against the Hoosiers. They'll then return home to host Northwestern on Thursday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.