Coach Jolette Law and the Illini will battle Purdue on ESPN2 Sunday at Noon.
Feb. 14, 2009
On The Air
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Barnett, play-by-play, and Stephen Bardo, expert analysis)
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM 1400 - LIVE (Dave Loane and Mike Koon)
*Radio tape-delayed after Illini men's basketball. Live on the internet (All-Access subscription required)
Livestats: fightingillini.com GameTracker
Illinois trails 43-16 overall and 23-4 in West Lafayette
Last meeting: Purdue 53, Illinois 42 on Dec. 22, 2008 in Champaign
Illinois: Jolette Law, 28-32 overall and at Illinois (second season)
Purdue: Sharon Versyp, 184-94 overall and 67-29 at Purdue (third season)
Opening Tip: The Fighting Illini (8-17, 4-10) head to West Lafayette on Sunday to battle Purdue (17-8, 10-4) at Mackey Arena. Illinois has been hot as of late, winning four of its last five, including two straight on the road, and is coming off back-to-back wins over Indiana and Northwestern. The Boilers, meanwhile, are in the thick of the Big Ten title hunt at 10-4, one game back of conference leader Michigan State (11-3).
February Frenzy: Sunday's Illinois-Purdue game will be televised by ESPN2 as part of its annual "February Frenzy" to support the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. Dave Barnett and former Illini men's basketball great Stephen Bardo will call the action. The UI-PU game is one of four games in the 1 p.m. ET time slot and will be shown fully in Illinois, Indiana and on ESPN360.com. Live updates will be shown throughout the rest of the country as part of ESPN's "whip-around" coverage that is used during the NCAA Tournament. For a full schedule of the "February Frenzy" games, including coverage maps, click HERE
Pink Zone Preview: Illinois will join Purdue in sporting pink uniforms and shoes for the Boiler's WBCA Pink Zone game on Sunday. The Illini will host their own Pink Zone game on Feb. 22 at Assembly Hall against Penn State.
Dynamic Duo: Juniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson have been Illinois' go-to players all season, combining to average 29.2 points and 17.5 rebounds per game to form one of the most potent duos in the country. In the Illini's recent five-game stretch, where they've gone 4-1, Smith and Simpson have combined for 32.6 points and 20.6 rebounds per game. The duo ranks 1-2 in double-doubles during Big Ten play as Simpson has seven and Smith five. Simpson also does it on defense, as she leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the nation in steals (3.4).
Peaking at the Right Time: Last season, the Fighting Illini peaked late in the season, making a historic run to the Big Ten Tournament title game as the No. 9 seed before falling to Purdue at the buzzer in the championship game. This year, the Orange and Blue appear to be playing their best basketball as the season winds down once again. After struggling to an 0-9 Big Ten start, Illinois has won four of its last five and is looking to climb up the conference standings as the postseason approaches.
Taking Care of the Rock: The key to Illinois' victory over Northwestern on Thursday was not giving away possessions. The Illini had a season-low seven turnovers against the `Cats, and held a 17-1 edge in points off turnovers for the game.
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.
Game Times Announced: Game times and broadcast information have been announced for Illinois' final two games this season. The Feb. 26 game at Iowa is set to tip at 8 p.m. CT and will air on the Big Ten Network, while the March 1 regular season finale at Minnesota will tip at 1 p.m. CT and will be streamed live on BigTenNetwork.com.
What to Watch For
A win would give Illinois five wins in its last six games and three straight road victories.
A win would be just the second for Illinois at Mackey Arena in the last 22 visits there.
Lacey Simpson needs five steals to pass Jill Estey for second on the UI career steals list and 10 to tie Allison Curtin's school record.
Simpson needs two assists to reach 300 for her career.
A double-digit scoring night for Jenna Smith would make it 34 straight games with at least 10 points.
A double-double for Smith would give her 30 for her career.
Smith needs 12 rebounds to pass Ashley Berggren for seventh on the Illinois career list.
Smith needs nine blocked shots to tie Kendra Gantt's school record of 156 career blocks.
Scouting the Boilermakers
Purdue is coming off a big road win at Minnesota on Thursday night, moving into third in the Big Ten race with a 10-4 record, just one game behind first place Michigan State. The Boilermakers have been on a roll as of late, winning four of the last five games with their only blunder during the stretch a road loss to second-place Ohio State.
The Boilermakers are one of the most balanced teams in the Big Ten, with six players averaging seven or more points per game. Senior forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton leads the way, averaging 12.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Senior Lakisha Freeman averages 11.3 ppg, while freshman guard Brittany Rayburn comes off the bench to average 9.1 ppg. Purdue is tops in the league from behind the arc, shooting 36 percent from behind the arc as a team. The Boilermakers also share the ball well, averaging a Big Ten-best 15.76 assists per game.
The Illinois-Purdue Series: The Boilermakers lead the all-time series 43-16 and have won 18 of the last 20 overall against the Illini. The Boilers also have a commanding 23-4 advantage over the Illini in West Lafayette. Illinois has dropped 20 of the last 21 road games against Purdue, with the lone win during that span a 66-56 win on Feb. 3, 2005. Purdue has already beaten Illinois once this season, winning 53-42 on Dec. 22 in the Big Ten opener for both squads. Last year, the Boilers took two of three meetings, including a thrilling 58-56 buzzer-beating win in the Big Ten Tournament title game.
This Year vs. the Boilermakers: The Illini opened Big Ten play at home with a 53-42 loss to Purdue on Dec. 22. Junior Lacey Simpson tied her career-high with 18 points and added seven rebounds and four steals, while Jenna Smith scored in double-figures for the 20th consecutive game in a defensive struggle with the Boilermakers. After a back-and-forth first half that saw both teams struggle offensively, Purdue slowly pulled out to a 12-point lead, 39-27, with under 12 minutes to play. The Orange and Blue would get no closer that eight from that point, as Purdue cruised to the 11-point win.
All-American Girl: Smith is Double Trouble
A Model of Consistency: Junior All-American Jenna Smith has scored in double-figures in all 25 games this year and in 33 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 61 of the last 62 games, with only a six-point outing against Michigan last season getting in the way.
Current Consecutive Games of 10+ points (Through games of 02/12/09) Rk Player, School Streak Next Game 1. Robyn Fairbanks, Utah Valley St. 73 Feb. 14 2. Megan Frazee, Liberty 58 Feb. 16 3. Morgan Warburton, Utah 57 Feb. 14 4. Jantel Lavender, Ohio State 55 Feb. 15 5. Sade Logan, Robert Morris 51 Feb. 14 6. Andrea Riley, Oklahoma State 48 Feb. 15 7. Jenna Smith, Illinois 33 Feb. 15 8. Carlee Cassidy, Md-Bltmore Cty 30 Feb. 15 Perfect 10: Smith currently ranks 10th on the Illinois career scoring list with 1,425 points. She has a ways to go to climb further up the list as she's still 77 points behind Tajua Catching's ninth-place total of 1,502 points. Smith needs 111 points to crack the UI's top five in all-time scoring.
Doubling Up: Smith had her seventh double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 boards in the win over Northwestern on Jan. 29. Smith now has 29 double-doubles for her career, which is tied for second among the Big Ten's active leaders and is fourth on the Illinois career list. Her five double-doubles in Big Ten play this season tied for second in the league behind only teammate Lacey Simpson.
Block Party: Smith is inching closer to Kendra Gantt's 24-year old Illinois career record for blocked shots. Smith's four blocks on Thursday brought her career total to 147, leaving her just 10 swats from passing Gantt's record of 156. With 49 blocks this season, Smith is also 10 blocks shy of equaling her own single season record of 59 from last season. Smith currently ranks third in the Big Ten and 46th in the nation in blocks.
Cleaning the Glass: Smith isn't climbing up just the scoring and blocks list, she also is steadily making her way up the UI career rebounding list. The junior has 768 boards after pulling down six on Thursday against Northwestern, leaving her 11 behind Ashley Berggren for seventh on the Illinois all-time list. She has stepped up her rebounding in conference play, ranking fourth in the league in overall rebounding (8.8) and second in offensive boards (3.36) during Big Ten games. The season-high 18 boards she pulled down against Iowa on Jan. 15 is the third-highest total in the conference this season and is is one off her career-high of 19.
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 38.56 per game and has played all 40 minutes 14 times this season. Smith has sat out just eight out of 560 minutes during conference play and just 41 out of 1005 minutes throughout the season.
Smith Named to Naismith Watch List: 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.
Big Ten POW: Junior forward Lacey Simpson was named the Big Ten Player of the Week (Feb. 10) after a pair of big games last week. Simpson had 16 points, 14 boards and three steals to lead the Illini to an upset win at Indiana on 2/8 and also had a huge game against Michigan State on 2/5 with 12 points, 12 rebounds, seven steals and four blocks. The Zion, Ill., native averaged 14.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.0 steals and 2.5 blocks while shooting 50 percent last week.
Getting Defensive: Simpson has certainly made a case to be this year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. She leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the nation in steals, averaging 3.36 per game, and ranks second in rebounding (9.3 rpg) and eighth in blocks (1.48). She's been even better in conference play, leading the way in rebounding (10.2), steals (3.21) and defensive rebounding (7.71), while ranking fourth in blocks (1.93).
Simpson Steals the Show: Simpson has racked up 20 steals in the last four games and is on pace to break the Illinois career steals record in less than three full seasons of play. She currently has 242 career thefts, leaving her four shy of Jill Estey's second place total of 246 and 10 short of the Allison Curtin's school record of 252. 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.
Double Take: Simpson is the only player in the Big Ten averaging a double-double in conference play (10.3 ppg and 10.2 rpg) and leads the league with seven double-doubles in Big Ten play. She has racked-up double-doubles in four consecutive game and has nine on the season, which ranks second in the league.
Rare Company: Simpson is one of only three players in the nation that averages over 3.0 steals and 9.0 rebounds per game. The other two are Louisville's Angel McCaughtry (9.3 rpg, 4.9 spg) and IUPUI's Jernisha Cann (11.0 rpg, 3.6 spg). Simpson is averaging 9.3 rpg and 3.4 steals per game entering Sunday's game at Purdue.
All-Around Player: 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 conference rankings in nine categories, joining Purdue's Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. Simpson ranks in the top-10 in seven of those nine categories and leads the league in steals at 3.36 per game. She is the only player to rank in the league's top-10 in rebounding (second), 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 11.1 points per game is nearly four points higher than her average last season and, defensively, she has taken it to another level as evidenced by her steals, blocks and rebounding numbers. Simpson nearly had the second triple-double in school history with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine steals in the season-opener.
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 is 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 hearing the news that she was named Big Ten Player of the Week and looks a head to Thursday's game against Northwestern. Check it out at www.fightingillini.com.
And then There Were Eight
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. With Gordon out, the Illini are left with eight scholarship players on the roster.
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.
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 6.8 points per game while knocking down a team-high 14 threes. Blinn has reached double figures six 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 on Jan. 29 and has shown signs of becoming another scoring threat to complement Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson. In Illinois' recent five-game run, Blinn is averaging 9.4 points per game.
Illinois has faced the 20th toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to RealTimeRPI.com. The Illini's 11 non-conference opponents have a combined record of 175-83 (.678) through games of Feb. 12, and overall, their opponents combine for a 369-224 record (.622).
Illinois in the NCAA Rankings
In the Feb. 13 NCAA rankings the Fighting Illini are 26th in the nation in fewest fouls committed at 14.6 per game and are 36th in the country in free throw percentage (.738). Individually, Lacey Simpson and Jenna Smith rank in the nations top-50 in two categories each. Simpson ranks sixth in steals per game (3.4) and 40th in rebounding (9.3), while Smith is 29th in scoring (18.1 ppg) and 46th in blocks (2.0).
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 iPod and an autographed basketball, among other items, to raise money for Coaches vs. Cancer.
Berggren Jersey To Be Raised to Rafters
Fighting Illini women's basketball legend Ashley Berggren will have her jersey raised to the Assembly Hall rafters on Sunday, Feb. 22, at halftime of Illinois' home finale against Penn State. Berggren's jersey will be the first women's basketball jersey displayed permanently at Assembly Hall.
Berggren, who donned the Orange and Blue from 1994-98, is Illinois' all-time leading scorer, totaling 2,089 points during her career. She was Big Ten Player of the Year as a junior in 1997, leading the Illini to a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. During her senior year of 1997-98, Berggren earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor and led the Orange and Blue to their second consecutive NCAA Sweet 16. She also was named an AP Third Team All-American in 1998 and an honorable mention All-American in 1996 and 1997.
Future Illini Honored
University of Illinois signee Destiny Williams is one of 20 girls' basketball players selected to participate in the 18th annual Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America Game presented by Nike. The college-style regulation game is scheduled to tip off at 4:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, April 4, at Washington University's Athletic Complex in St. Louis, Mo. The game is part of the WBCA National Convention, which takes place at the site of the NCAA Women's Final Four.
In addition to Williams, fellow Illinois signee Karisma Penn was one of 20 players to receive Honorable Mention accolades for the game. Williams and Penn are two of the six student-athletes who signed National Letters of Intent to play for Illinois and Coach Jolette Law in November. The class was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country by one publication.
Dominance Over Northwestern Continues
After sweeping Northwestern once again this season, Illinois has now won 19 straight against the Wildcats. 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, as the Illini have won 10 straight in Evanston. The 19 straight victories is the second-longest current streak of one Big Ten team over another, behind only Purdue's 21 straight wins against Northwestern.
After Sunday's game at Purdue, the Illini have the full week off before hosting Penn State at Assembly Hall on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. The game against the Nittany Lions will be the 2008-09 home finale for Illinois, and is the school's WBCA Pink Zone game to raise awareness for breast cancer. All fans who wear a pink shirt to the game will get in free. In addition, it will be Senior Day for lone UI senior Chelsea Gordon, and former Illini great Ashley Berggren will have her #32 jersey raised to the rafters in a halftime ceremony.