Lacey Simpson and the Illini are hoping to extend their season with a win at Western Kentucky Friday night in the WNIT.
March 18, 2010
First Round: Illinois (16-14) at Western Kentucky (21-10)
Friday, March 19, 2010 // 7 p.m. // Bowling Green, Ky. // E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326)
Illinois' Tournament Road
Second Round: ILL-WKU winner vs. Eastern Illinois-Marquette winner // Date, time and location TBA
On The Air
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM-1400 and WDAN AM-1490 (Dave Loane and Mike Koon)
Tickets are on sale at the WKU Athletic Ticket Office or by calling 1-800-5 BIG RED. Prices are $13 for Red Towel and chairback seats, $10 for reserved bleacher seats, $6 for youth and $5 for students.
Illinois Head Coach
Jolette Law, 46-50 overall and at Illinois (3rd season), 1-1 in the WNIT
Setting the Scene
The Game: The Fighting Illini (16-14) return to action for the first time in two weeks on Friday night when they head to Western Kentucky (21-10) for the first round of the 2010 Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). The Illini and Lady Toppers will tip at 7 p.m. at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. The Illini have won three of their last four with the lone loss coming to No. 10 Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. WKU has won 14 of its last 17 games and most recently fell to Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals.
Looking Ahead: The winner of the Illinois-WKU contest will advance to the second round to face the winner of Thursday's Eastern Illinois-Marquette game in Milwaukee. The date and location of the second round game have not been determined.
Countdown to the Record: Senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith needs just three points to become Illinois' all-time leading scorer. She enters Friday's game with 2,087 career points to rank second in UI history behind Ashley Berggren's school record of 2,089 set from 1994-98. Additionally, with 11 points on Friday, Smith would move into the top-10 on the Big Ten's all-time scoring list.
Postseason Streak: With the WNIT bid, Illinois has now advanced to postseason play in 12 of the last 14 years. The 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons are the only years since 1996-97 that the Illini have not reached postseason play. The Orange and Blue have advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times during that streak and to the WNIT the other seven.
Smith Finalist for All-America Honor: Jenna Smith has been named a Regional finalist for the WBCA's State Farm All-America Team for the second time in her career (2008). This year, she joins Ohio State's Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis, Iowa's Kachine Alexander and Missouri State's Casey Garrison from Region 6.
Smith Among All-Time Big Ten Elite: Jenna Smith is one of just four players in Big Ten history to reach 2,000+ career points and 1,000+ career rebounds. With 2,087 points and 1,168 boards, Smith joins former Ohio State center Jessica Davenport (2004-07), former Minnesota Golden Gopher Laura Coenen (1982-85) and current Ohio State Buckeye Jantel Lavender in the exclusive club.
Simpson On Verge of Record: Lacey Simpson needs one steal to move into sole possession of first on the Illinois single-season steals list. She's currently tied with Allison Curtin atop the list with 102 steals on the season. Simpson's 357 career steals rank as the third-highest total in Big Ten history and put her just one behind Kim Wilburn's (OSU, 2003-06) second-place total of 358 and 15 behind Stacey Thomas' (MICH, 1997-00) all-time conference record of 372.
Queen of the Boards: Jenna Smith has been a monster on the boards this season, averaging 11.3 per game to rank 10th in the nation. She pulled down a career-high 20 boards vs. Indiana on Feb. 7 and then had a Big Ten Tournament single-game record 19 boards on March 4 vs. the Hoosiers. She became Illinois' career rebounding leader on Jan. 17 and enters Friday's game with 1,168 career boards, making her the third-best rebounder in Big Ten women's history. If that weren't enough, during the Big Ten Tournament she became the Illinois single-season rebounding record holder as her 338 boards this season broke the old mark of 335 by Lynette Robinson in 1980-81.
Dynamic Duo in the History Books: Seniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson will go down as two of the best players in program history. Take a look below to see where each ranks in the UI career record book heading into postseason play. See page 8 of the PDF at the top of the page for a complete list of updated records.
Smith Stat Total Rank Rebounds 1,168 1 Blocks 217 1 Double-Doubles 50 1 FG Attempts 1,593 1 Games Started 117 1 Minutes Played 4,400 1 Points 2,087 2 FG Made 788 2 FT Made 471 2 Games Played 126 2 FT Percentage .807 6 Penn Owns Frosh Record: With 48 blocks this season, Karisma Penn is the Illinois freshman blocks record holder. She broke the old record of 39 that was shared by current seniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson. Those two have gone on to rank 1-2 on the UI career blocks list, meaning Penn is ahead of their record pace after one season.
Simpson Stat Total Rank Steals 357 1 Games Played 131 1 Blocks 161 2 Games Started 114 2 Minutes Played 4,019 2 Assists 443 3 Rebounds 871 5 3FG Made 84 10 Points 1,129 17
Illinois in the WNIT
This year marks Illinois' fifth postseason WNIT appearance in the last six years and its seventh overall appearance in the tournament. The Illini went 1-1 in their last appearance in 2008 and are 5-6 overall in the tournament.
Illinois has lost just once in its opening-round game, on the road at Indiana State in 2005. In each of the five other WNIT appearances the Illini have won their first game and lost the second. The Orange and Blue are 5-2 all-time in WNIT games played in Champaign and are 0-4 in games on the road.
What to Watch For on Friday
...Jenna Smith needs three points to become Illinois' all-time leading scorer ...Smith needs 11 points to move into 10th on the Big Ten's all-time scoring list ...Smith needs three blocks to move into a tie for 11th on the Big Ten career blocked shots list ...Smith needs eight blocks to break the UI single season blocks record ...Lacey Simpson needs one steal to break the Illinois single-season steals record ...Simpson needs two steals to move up to second on the Big Ten career steals list
First Round Foe: Western Kentucky
The Lady Toppers own a 21-10 overall record, finishing second in the Sun Belt East Division behind Middle Tennessee State with a 14-4 conference record. Western Kentucky last played on March 8, falling 76-73 to MTSU in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals. WKU earned the Sun Belt's automatic WNIT bid as the conference's top finisher not selected for the NCAA Tournament.
Senior forward Arnika Brown earned first team All-Conference honors, while junior guard Amy McNear was named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team. Brown averages a double-double of 11.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, including a whopping 4.5 offensive boards per game, while McNear averages 11.6 points and 4.3 assists per game. As a team, WKU leads the Sun Belt in rebounding margin (+3.2) and offensive rebound percentage (.388). Head coach Mary Taylor Cowles is in her eighth season at the helm of the Western Kentucky program and is a three-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
The Illinois-Western Kentucky Series: The Lady Toppers own a 2-1 advantage over Illinois in the all-time series between the teams. Illinois and Western Kentucky last met in the 2002 WNIT, with the Illini winning 91-84 in Champaign. WKU defeated Illinois in Champaign on Dec. 1, 1990, 87-76, and also topped the Illini in the teams' only previous meeting in Bowling Green, 81-79, on Nov. 26, 1989.
All-Big Ten Honors
Senior Jenna Smith was named a first team All-Big Ten selection for the third year in a row when the conference announced this year's award winners on March 1. She joins Ashley Berggren as the only Illini named to the first team three times. Smith was a unanimous first team choice by the media. Senior Lacey Simpson was named third team All-Big Ten by the media and honorable mention by the coaches and was also named to the All-Defensive Team for the second straight season. Additionally, Karisma Penn was named to the All-Freshman Team and Kersten Magrum was tabbed as Illinois' Sportsmanship honoree.
This season the Fighting Illini are...
...10-0 when attempting an equal number or more free throws than their opponent
...11-2 when shooting over 40 percent from the field
...14-2 when holding opponents to less than 60 points
...12-2 when holding opponents under 35 percent from field
...10-2 when leading at halftime
...14-4 when shooting better than their opponent
...10-4 when having an equal number or fewer turnovers than their opponent
...7-6 when coming off a loss in the previous game
Watch Out for Jenna
Smith in Elite Club: Senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith is one of just six players in the nation to average 18+ points and 10+ rebounds per game. With averages of 18.1 points and 11.3 boards, Smith joins Middle Tennessee State's Alysha Clark, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Nebraska's Kelsey Griffin, Columbia's Judie Lomax and Southern Mississippi's Pauline Love in the 18-10 club.
Smith Makes the Cut: Smith was named to the Naismith Award Midseason top-30 in early March. The prestigious Naismith Trophy is presented annually to college basketball's player of the year. Smith was also a preseason candidate for the Wade Trophy, the Wooden Award and the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.
Record Breaker: Smith is already the Illinois career leader in rebounds (1,168), blocked shots (217), double-doubles (50), field goals attempted (1,593), games started (117) and minutes played (4,400) and has a chance to top the scoring and field goals made list as well as she ranks second on both. Take a look at Illinois all-time records Smith has a chance to break this season on page 8.
Toeing the Line: One of the most overlooked parts of Smith's game has been her free throw shooting. She won the Big Ten's FT shooting crown with the best percentage (.878) during conference games and she currently leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th in the nation at 87.6 percent for all games. Her career percentage of 80.7 ranks sixth in Illinois history and she ranks second on the Illinois career free throws made list with 471, behind only Ashley Berggren's record of 562.
Jenna's Fire Burning: Smith was on fire in the Feb. 11 win over Northwestern. Smith hit her first 11 shots of the game, including a career-high five three-pointers, and had 28 points in the first 13 minutes of the game as the Illini jumped out to a huge lead. She finished with a career-high 34 points, hitting 13-of-16 overall, 5-of-6 from downtown and 3-of-3 from the free throw line against the Wildcats.
Double-Dipping: Smith ranks 12th nationally and second in the Big Ten with 18 double-doubles this season. She is already Illinois' career double-doubles record holder with 50.
Jenna Sweeps Blocks Records: Smith has etched her name at the top of every blocked shots category in the UI record book. She became Illinois' career blocks leader last season and has a chance to reach top-10 status in the all-time Big Ten record book. She also holds the top two spots on the UI single-season blocks list (63 in 2008-09 and 59 in 2007-08) and recently broke the single-game record with seven blocks at Purdue on Feb. 4.
Working Woman: Smith isn't doing all of her work on the basketball court or in the classroom this semester. The senior is also interning with the Illinois Athletic Public Relations office during the spring term. Smith, who is set to graduate in May with a degree in community health, is getting a first-hand look at what goes on behind the scenes in an athletic department. Look for her weekly blog about the experience, called "Posting Up with Jenna" at fightingillini.com.
Simpson Steals the Show
Making Her Case: Senior Lacey Simpson once again made a strong case for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors but came up short in the voting as Michigan State's Alyssa DeHaan took home the honor. Simpson's 3.61 steals per game during conference play not only led the conference, but was the highest average since Purdue's Kelly Komara averaged 3.9 thefts per game in 2001-02 and was over 1.1 steals better than her closest competition this year, Purdue's FahKara Malone (2.50 spg).
Simpson is not only outstanding in the steals department, but she also ranks ninth in the conference in blocks and sixth in rebounding while also serving as a lockdown defender while guarding the best perimeter player on the opposing team all season.
Climbing BT Charts: After notching nine steals in two Big Ten Tournament games, Simpson heads into the WNIT ranked third on the Big Ten career steals list with 357. Already the Illinois career steals leader, Simpson is 13 steals ahead of current Purdue senior FahKara Malone on the Big Ten list. Simpson leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in steals at 3.4 per game. During conference play she averaged a league-best 3.6 thefts per contest for her second-straight conference steals title. She needs two more steals to pass former Buckeye Kim Wilburn for second on the conference's all-time list.
Simpson Does It All: Simpson is widely known for her defense and versatility. This year, however, she has diversified her game even more. Playing more at her natural wing position, she's taking her habit of filling the stat sheet to another level as she's averaging 9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, a team-high 4.0 assists and a Big Ten-leading 3.4 steals per game. She ranks in the top-15 in the conference in eight categories (steals, assists, assist-TO ratio, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks, FG percentage and rebounds).
Dropping Dimes: With a team-high 119 assists this season, Simpson is the first player in school history to record 100+ assists in four different seasons. She has 443 career assists to rank third on the Illinois all-time list.
Assault on the Record Book: More evidence of Simpson's all-around prowess can be found in the Illinois record book. She already cracks the career top-5 in seven different categories and is the program's all-time leader in steals (357) and games played (131). She also ranks second in blocked shots (161), games started (114) and minutes played (4,019), third in assists (443) and fifth in rebounds (871), while also climbing up both the three point field goals list (10th) and scoring (17th) lists. See page 8 for a complete list of updated Illini and Big Ten records.
Block Party in the USA
The Fighting Illini have already broken the school record for blocks in a season, racking up 177 blocks on the year compared to just 75 for their opponents. The old team record of 156 was set in 2007-08. Illinois blocked a single-game school record 12 shots on Feb. 4 at Purdue, with Jenna Smith leading the way with a school-record seven swats. For the season, Illinois ranks ninth in the nation and second in the Big Ten at 5.9 bpg.
This year's highly-touted freshman class was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation coming out of high school. The frosh have lived up to their billing so far, as they've combined to average 20.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game even without contributions from sharpshooter Amber Moore, who suffered a torn ACL in the season-opener. Karisma Penn, Adrienne GodBold and Kersten Magrum have made the biggest impact thus far.
Penn There, Done That: Penn, a 6-2 forward, was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and is averaging 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week a conference-high four times this season, most recently on March 1 after a huge all-around game at Northwestern on Feb. 28.
On Jan. 3, Penn hit the game-winning lay-up to top Wisconsin at the buzzer. She had her first career double-double on Dec. 31 against Penn State with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and has scored a career-high 21 points twice thus far, first on Nov. 22 over Bradley and most recently on Jan. 14 at Ohio State.
Starting to Find Her Role: Since earning a spot in the starting lineup 11 games ago, Magrum has stepped-up to average 7.0 points per game and is shooting 48 percent from the field. The 6-1 forward exploded for 12 points at Purdue on Feb. 4, and then topped that on Feb. 14 at Iowa with a career-high 14 points. A gym-rat, Magrum has upper her scoring average from 1.8 to 3.9 points per game since making her first start on Jan. 28.
Captain Clutch: GodBold has come up big during crunch time this season. The 5-11 guard had a game-winning three-point play with 10 seconds left in the win over Minnesota on Jan. 10 and is averaging 5.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game for the season. She scored a career-high 15 points and had three steals in the Illini's win over Oakland on Dec. 19 and she has been key defensively for the Illini all season, taking some of the defensive load off of Lacey Simpson.
More Fighting Illini Tidbits
New and Improved: With 16 wins this season, the Illini have exceeded their win total from a year ago by six. Last year, Illinois finished the season 10-21.
Getting Defensive: Coach Jolette Law teaches her teams to take pride in defense and this year's Illini look to be buying into that philosophy. In addition to ranking ninth in the nation in blocks, the Illini are holding opponents to 36.1 percent shooting from the field, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 31st nationally. The Illini have held their opponent to under 30 percent shooting seven times this season, most recently in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament when they held Indiana to just 27.4 percent from the field.
Dominance Over Northwestern Continues: After sweeping the Wildcats once again this season (81-50 on Feb. 11 in Champaign and 58-48 on Feb. 28 in Evanston), Illinois has now won 21 straight against the Wildcats overall and 11 straight against the `Cats in Evanston. NU has not beaten Illinois since Feb. 5, 1999, and has not topped the Illini at Welsh-Ryan Arena since 1996. The 21 straight overall victories is the longest current streak of one Big Ten team over another.
Big Ten Stat Champs: Illinois players finished atop a pair of Big Ten stat categories during conference play. Lacey Simpson repeated as the conference steals champion as she averaged 3.61 steals per game in Big Ten action to easily outpace second-place FahKara Malone (2.50 spg). Meanwhile, Jenna Smith finished conference play atop the free throw percentage chart by hitting at a sizzling 87.8 percent from the charity stripe. Smith also just missed the rebounding crown, finishing tied for second at 10.8 rebounds per game, just behind Kachine Alexander's conference-leading total of 11.1.
Illini Big Ten Tourney Notes
Third-year Illini head coach Jolette Law is 5-3 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, with the Illini being the lower seed in every game.
Jenna Smith set a Big Ten Tournament single-game record with 19 rebounds against Indiana in the first round on March 4. The previous tournament record was 18.
Smith pulled down 84 rebounds in nine career Big Ten Tournament games, making her the all-time leading rebounder in tournament history.
Lacey Simpson's eight steals against Indiana on March 4 ties for the second-most steals in a Big Ten Tournament game behind only Janel McCarville's single-game record of 10 in on March 5, 2004.
Simpson's 25 steals in Big Ten Tournament games ties her for third on the all-time tournament list. Her 17 total blocks in the BTT ties her for fourth on the all-time list.
Ultimate Basketball Challenge Set for April 14
The Illini men's and women's basketball teams will against join up with the Illinois men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams for the fifth annual Ultimate Basketball Challenge at Huff on Wednesday, April 14, at 6 p.m. The UBC 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.