Coach Jolette Law and the Illini host Penn State Thursday night on the Big Ten Network
Feb. 19, 2008
On The Air
TV: Live on the Big Ten Network - DirecTV Ch. 220 and Dish Network Ch. 439 (Brent Stover and Brenda VanLengen)
Radio: Live on WDWS AM-1400 (Dave Loane, play-by-play; Mike Koon, analysis)
Streaming Audio: Live on fightingillini.com (requires Illini All-Access subscription)
Penn State leads 21-11 overall but Illinois leads 8-6 in Champaign
Last Meeting: Penn State 49, Illinois 48 on Jan. 2, 2008 in University Park, Pa.
Illinois: Jolette Law, 14-11 overall and at Illinois (first season)
Penn State: Coquese Washington, 13-13 overall and at Penn State (first season)
The Game: Illinois (14-11, 6-8) is looking to position itself for a run in the Big Ten Tournament with a late-season push. The Illini will play three of their last four games at home, starting Thursday when the Penn State Lady Lions (13-13, 4-10) come to Assembly Hall. Illinois is in eighth place in the Big Ten after another narrow road loss to Wisconsin last Thursday, 66-64. Penn State, meanwhile, in in 10th place and has dropped seven straight games, including a 66-50 home loss to Michigan State on Sunday.
Bjork Needs One: Junior Lori Bjork tied the Illinois career three-point field goals record with a trey at Wisconsin last Thursday. She needs one this Thursday against Penn State to break Krista Reinking's record of 194 and stand alone with the mark. Bjork holds three of the top six single-season 3FG totals, including the school record of 84 last season.
Streakin' Jenna: Sophomore Jenna Smith currently has the longest streak of double-digit scoring games in the Big Ten, with 27 (2 from last year). Ohio State's Jantel Lavender is second with 25 straight games.
Double-Trouble: Jenna Smith has recorded double-doubles in 13 of 25 games this season, which is the most in the Big Ten. Smith, only a sophomore, has 19 double-doubles in her career, which is third in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson (24) and Indiana junior Whitney Thomas (21). Smith is the only player in the league averaging a double-double this season (19.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg).
Grand Game: With 19 points against Indiana on Feb. 10, junior Lori Bjork became the 21st player in Illinois history to reach the 1,000 point milestone. Two free throws with 24.4 seconds left gave the guard her 999th and 1,000th career points.
Bjork Earns Academic Honor: Lori Bjork was named to the CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District First Team for the second straight year on Feb. 7. Bjork is a political science major with a 3.93 GPA. She will now be on the Academic All-America ballot, which is voted on by college sports information directors. Last season, she was one of two sophomores to earn Academic All-America status, as she was named to the third team.
TV Time: Thursday's game against Penn State will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network (HD) with Brent Stover and Brenda VanLengen calling the action. It will be the sixth of at least seven Illini games on the network this season. The Illini's next game on the network will be on Sunday, Feb. 24, against Michigan.
Up Next: Illinois will host Michigan at Assembly Hall Sunday evening at 5 p.m. in another nationally televised Big Ten Network clash.
Climbing the Charts
While Bjork seems destined to break the career 3FG record soon, she and her Illini teammates are climbing up several Illinois season and career lists. Here's a look at some of the highlights (for a complete list see page 8):
Jenna Smith ranks sixth on the blocks list with 49, just nine shy of breaking Kendra Gantt's record of 57.
Smith ranks fourth in single-season double-doubles with 13. The record is 20 by Lynette Robinson (1980-81).
Smith jumped into the top-15 on the rebounding list last week. She sits in 13th place with 249 boards. The record of 335 by Lynnette Robinson is within reach.
Smith has also cracked the top-15 in free throws made (12th with 118 FTM) and the top-25 in both scoring (23rd with 476 points) and field goals made (23rd with 177 FGM).
Lori Bjork ranks fourth on the single season 3FG list with 57. She set the record last season by knocking down 84 treys.
Bjork's free throw percentage of 87.1 is just off the school record of 88.8 set by Lisa Robinson in 1980-81.
Jenna Smith has cracked the top-25 of the career rebounding list with 482 in less than two seasons. The record is 1,014 by Cindy Dallas.
Smith is already sixth on the career blocked shots list with 88. The record is 156 by Kendra Gantt.
Smith has 19 career double-doubles, which ranks 10th on the UI list. The record is 40 by Jonelle Polk.
Sophomore Lacey Simpson is 18th on the steals list with 132. The record is 252 by Allison Curtin.
The team FT percentage record of 75.5 is in jeopardy with the Illini hitting 79.3 percent from the stripe this season.
Illinois' scoring defense of 58.2 would rank second behind only the school record of 50.3 (1976-77).
Illinois' 131 made threes ranks fifth on the UI list. The record of 171 was set in 2002-03.
The Illini have had nine games decided by five points or less this season, which is the most in the Big Ten, with eight of those games coming in Big Ten play. The Illini are 3-6 overall in those games, and 2-6 in the conference games. Included in the six Big Ten setbacks are two one-point defeats, two two-point losses and a three-point setback, all in similar fashion. Here is a closer look at the close calls in Big Ten play:
The wins ...
Jan. 31: Lori Bjork came up big with four points in the final minute to hold off a late charge by #19 Ohio State in a 68-64 victory.
Feb. 4: Illinois allowed only one field goal in the last eight minutes and ended the game on a 14-4 run to top Michigan on the road, 66-61.
Jan. 2: Illinois thought it had a last-second win at Penn State, but fell 49-48 when Rebecca Harris was called for a charge on a would-be game-winning lay-up as time expired.
Jan. 17: Illinois led by seven with less than five minutes left, but didn't score the rest of the way and fell victim to an OSU three with 14.5 seconds left for a 43-42 defeat.
Jan. 21: The Illini had two late chances to pull out a win over Iowa, but lost, 60-58, on a bucket by Hawkeyes guard Kristi Smith with 6.7 seconds left.
Jan. 24: With the score tied at 62-62 in the final seconds, Michigan State's Allyssa DeHaan scored on a putback bucket with 9.2 seconds left. Then Illinois turned it over on the ensuing possession.
Feb. 7: Illinois led Minnesota by three late in the second half and had two shots to tie it in the final minute but couldn't convert in a 66-61 road loss to the Gophers.
Feb. 14: The Illini had a chance to win or tie it in the final seconds, but Rebecca Harris was called for traveling at the buzzer after colliding with Wisconsin's Janese Banks on a final shot. Wisconsin won 66-64.
Leading the Way
Jenna Smith leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage (.545), rebounding (10.0), double-doubles (13) and minutes (37.3), while ranking second in scoring (19.0), offensive rebounds (3.32), defensive rebounds (6.64) and third in blocks (1.96). Lori Bjork ranks second in FT percentage (.871) and third 3FG per game (2.28). Lacey Simpson is second in assist/turnover ratio (1.64). As a team, Illinois paces the league in scoring defense (58.3), FT percentage (.793) and rebounding defense (31.5).
In Big Ten games only Smith has been just as dominant, leading the league in rebounding (9.4), offensive rebounds (3.29) and minutes (37.6) and ranking in the top-3 three in seven total categories, including scoring (18.4) and double-doubles (6). Additionally, Bjork leads the league in three-point field goals per game (2.43). Team-wise, Illinois leads the league in FT percentage (.779) and ranks second in the league in blocked shots (4.31).
Breaking Down The Lady Lions
After Penn State beat the Illini on Jan. 2 they were 3-1 in the Big Ten and tied for first place, but they've gone just 1-9 since and have dropped seven in a row to fall all the way to 10th place in the conference. The Nittany Lions had one of the biggest non-conference wins for the Big Ten on Dec. 2, when they topped No. 10 Duke, 86-84, in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions are under the leadership of Coquese Washington, who joins Jolette Law as two of the four first-year head coaches in the Big Ten. Washington spent eight seasons total as an associate head coach and assistant coach at Notre Dame before being hired at Penn State.
Penn State is led by its backcourt, which boasts four players scoring in double figures. Sophomore Tyra Grant (14.2 ppg) leads the way, and is joined by senior Kamela Gissendanner (12.2), junior Brianne O'Rourke (11.8), and junior Mashea Williams (10.0). O'Rourke is one of the top point guards in the Big Ten, averaging a conference-best 4.81 assists per game, while Gissendanner is the Nittany Lions leading rebounder with 6.3 per game.
The Lady Lions are 3-8 on the road this season. They rank second in the Big Ten in free throw shooting (.772) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.302), but are last in scoring defense (67.8)
Keystone Connection: Two Illini players hail from Pennsylvania - the Keystone State - Chelsea Gordon (Erie) and Audrey Tabon (Pittsburgh). Gordon and Penn State guard Mashea Williams attended high school together at Mercyhurst Prep and played on the same AAU team, while Tabon and Lady Lion guard Brianne O'Rourke both attended Oakland Catholic HS in Pittsburgh.
The Illinois-Penn State Series
Penn State leads 21-11 overall but the Illini hold an 8-6 edge in Champaign. Illinois has won the last two meetings at Assembly Hall, including a 74-65 overtime thriller last season. Earlier this season the Lions edged the Illini in Happy Valley, 49-48, in a controversial finish. Read below for more detail.
Earlier This Year Against the Lions
Illini guard Rebecca Harris hit what she thought was a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer, but was called for an offensive foul instead, giving Penn State a 49-48 victory over Illinois at Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 2.The final play came after Penn State's Tyra Grant converted two free throws with 9.9 seconds left to give the Lady Lions the lead. After an Illinois timeout, Harris drove the length of the court and laid the ball in as time expired, but was whistled for a charge against the Lions' Mashea Williams, giving Penn State a controversial win. Lori Bjork led the Illini with 12 points, and hit 3-of-7 from three-point range.
Smith Enjoying Sophomore Surge
Illini forward Jenna Smith has taken off in her sophomore season. She one of the front runners for Big Ten Player of the Year and has already been named tournament MVP at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic and Big Ten Player of the Week three times. For the year, she is averaging 19.0 points, which ranks second in the Big Ten, and leads the league in rebounding (10.0) and field goal percentage (54.5). She has scored at least 20 points 11 times this season and has reached 30 points twice, both which rank second in the Big Ten. She has led the Illini in scoring 18 times and in rebounding 17 times thus far.
Stepping Up Down the Stretch: Smith has been putting up big numbers as of late despite constantly seeing double and triple teams from Illini opponents. In the last two games, Smith is averaging 27.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.
Moving Outside: Smith hit her first three-pointer this season early in the game Jan. 27 at Purdue, and has knocked down three more since. One of the top inside players in the league, Smith has also shown a soft touch from 15-18 feet throughout her career, but has rarely stepped outside the arc until recently. Before going 4-of-11 in the last six games, she had hit one three-pointer in five attempts in her career.
Raking in the Honors: Smith is the first Illini in over 20 years to pick up three player of the week honors in the same season. Jonelle Polk was honored four times in the 1985-86 season, which is the most for an Illini in a single season. Polk and Ashley Berggren share the career mark for Illinois, with five each.
Smith Holds Her Own vs. NPOY: Smith faced her toughest competition to date when last year's AP National Player of the Year Courtney Paris came to Assembly Hall Dec. 5. Smith more than held her own against the Sooners star, hitting 7-of-9 from the field for 15 points, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking two shots. Paris had her usual big numbers with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but Smith served notice that she will be a force to be reckoned with for the next few years.
Career Day: Smith scored a career-high 32 points and had 10 boards against SIU on Nov. 18. She hit 13-of-19 from the field and scored 11 straight points for the Illini at one point in the second half.
Illini in the NCAA Rankings
In the Feb. 17 NCAA statistical rankings, Illinois ranks in the top-50 in the nation in five different categories, and Illini individuals rank in the top-100 in nine different categories.
Team Category Rank StatTaking the Freebies
Free Throw Percentage 6 79.3 Personal Fouls (fewest) 10 13.7 Turnovers per game (fewest) 45 15.8 Blocked shots per game 48 4.4 Scoring Defense 48 58.3
Indiv. Category Player Rank Stat
Points per game Jenna Smith 17 19.0 Rebounds per game Jenna Smith 19 10.0 FG Percentage Jenna Smith 34 54.5 Blocks per game Jenna Smith 41 2.0 3FG Percentage Lori Bjork 52 38.0 3FG per game Lori Bjork 68 2.3 Assist/TO Ratio Lacey Simpson 75 1.64 FT Percentage Jenna Smith 94 80.3 Steals per game Lacey Simpson 97 2.3
Iced Kohl: Illinois set a new Kohl Center record by hitting 21-of-22 from the line (95.5 percent) on Feb. 14 against the Badgers. It equaled the sixth-best single-game FT percentage in Big Ten history and would have been the all-time Big Ten record if Lori Bjork, the team's best FT shooter, hadn't missed the only freebie of the game for the Illini.
Knocking 'Em Down: Bjork leads the Orange and Blue from the line, shooting 87.1 percent (54-of-62), which ranks second in the Big Ten, while Rebecca Harris (84.3 percent) and Jenna Smith (80.3 percent) are close behind. All three would rank in the Illinois career top-10 if they were to maintain their career averages.
Bjork Heating Up For Stretch Run
Sharp-shooter Lori Bjork has been on fire as of late. In addition to recently reaching the 1,000-point milestone and tying the UI career 3FG record, the junior guard has been tearing it up over the last five games. Bjork is averaging 14.6 per game and is shooting 52 percent from behind the arc during that span, bringing up her season 3FG percentage from 34.7 to 38.0. She's averaging 39.2 minutes per game and has a 17-12 assist-TO ratio. She even pulled down a career-high seven rebounds in the win over Indiana on Feb 10.
Going to the Bench
In the last seven games Coach Law has been going deeper into her bench, in part because the Illini have been shorthanded, but also because they've been producing. Freshman Chelsea Buher has averaged 13.0 minutes per game in the last seven after averaging just 5.2 prior. She scored six points in a career-high 20 minutes at Purdue and four in 17 minutes against Michigan State. Then on Feb. 7 at Minnesota she again set a career-high in minutes with 22.
Senior Stephanie Chelleen has also stepped up as of late. After sitting out several games with a foot injury to start Big Ten play, Chelleen has seen significant action in the last six games, including six points at Minnesota and a career-high 24 minutes at Purdue. She has scored at least five points in four of the last six games. Even junior center Erin McCarthy has come off the bench in three of the last five games after not playing in the previous seven.
Bec Blowing Up
Senior guard Rebecca Harris has stepped up big in her final season with the Illini, especially as of late. In the last 10 games she is averaging 12.0 points and 35 minutes per game, well above her career averages, and has put up career-highs in points, 23 vs. Minnesota on Jan. 10, and rebounds, 11 at Purdue on Jan. 27, during that span. She has also played a full 40 minutes twice, at Iowa and vs. Ohio State.
Perfect 10: In the Feb. 14 loss to Wisconsin, Harris kept the Illini in the game down the stretch by scoring the team's final 10 points, all in the last two minutes. In the game Harris hit 10-of-10 from the free throw line and finished with 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half.
No TOs: In the Jan. 31 win over OSU, Harris was stellar, not only scoring 14 points, but playing all 40 minutes without a turnover.
Ultimate Basketball Challenge Set for April 16
The Illini men's and women's basketball teams will again join up with the Illinois men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams for the third annual Ultimate Basketball Challenge. This year's Challenge will be held on Wednesday, April 16, at Huff Hall. It is a fundraising event, with proceeds from the game benefiting the wheelchair teams, as well as Coaches vs. Cancer. Check fightingillini.com as the date approaches for ticket information.