Lydia McCully and the Illini are looking to advance to the WNIT final four.
March 27, 2010
Semifinals: Illinois-ISU winner vs. BYU-California winner // Date, time and location TBD
Video: Free streaming video at GoRedbirds.com
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM-1400 and WDAN AM-1490 (Dave Loane and Mike Koon)
Livestats: fightingillini.com GameTracker
Live Blog: fightingillini.com
Tickets are $9 for general admission and $6 for under 18. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Illinois State Athletic Ticket Office, over the phone by calling 309-438-8000 or online at GoRedbirds.com
Illinois Head Coach
Jolette Law, 49-50 overall and at Illinois (3rd season), 4-1 in the WNIT (2nd appearance)
Setting the Scene
The Game: The Fighting Illini (19-14) will face their second straight Missouri Valley Conference opponent when they head west on I-74 to face the Illinois State Redbirds (27-7) in Normal, Ill., on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Postseason WNIT. The two teams played earlier this season, with the Illini earning a hard-fought 62-51 win at Redbird Arena. Illinois has won six of its last seven games after a 65-53 win at Missouri State on Thursday night, while the Redbirds are coming off a 71-51 home win over Kansas in their third round game.
Looking Ahead: The winner of the Illinois-ISU contest will advance to the semifinals to face the winner of BYU and California, who play Saturday night in Berkeley, Calif. The date, time and location of the semifinal game have not been determined.
Not Done Yet: While she has put up huge numbers all season (18.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg), Jenna Smith has stepped up even more during postseason play. In three WNIT games, she is averaging 20.3 ppg, 13.7 rpg and 4.0 bpg while shooting 60 percent from the field and 94 percent from the line. In all five post season games, including the Big Ten Tournament, she is averaging 19.4 ppg, 14.2 rpg and shooting 54 percent from the field and 96 percent from the line.
Top Scorer: Senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith became Illinois' all-time leading women's scorer during the first round WNIT win at Western Kentucky. A three-pointer 5:18 into the first half moved her past Ashley Berggren's UI career record of 2,089 points. Smith finished that game with 21 points and then followed that up with 29 points in the second round win over Marquette, moving her past Deon Thomas' UI men's scoring record of 2,129 and making her the top scorer, male or female, in Illinois basketball history. Smith's current total of 2,148 points is also good for 10th on the Big Ten's all-time scoring list.
Queen of the Boards: Jenna Smith has been a monster on the boards this season, averaging 11.5 per game to rank 10th in the nation. She enters Sunday's game with 1,209 career boards, making her the second-best rebounder in Big Ten women's history. If that weren't enough, this season she has become the Big Ten's single-season rebounding record holder as her 379 boards top the old mark of 374 by Ohio State's Jantel Lavender last season.
Simpson is Steals Leader: Senior Lacey Simpson has broken the Illinois single-season steals record this season as her 112 thefts better Allison Curtin's old record of 102. Simpson's 367 career steals is the second-highest total in Big Ten history behind only Stacey Thomas' (MICH, 1997-00) all-time conference record of 372.
Smith Finalist for All-America Honor: Jenna Smith has been named one of 40 finalists for the State Farm Coaches All-America Team, the WBCA announced last week. Smith is now in the running for selection to the 10-member Coaches' All-America Team.
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 2,148 points and 1,209 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.
Penn Owns Frosh Record: With 55 blocks this season, Karisma Penn has shattered the Illinois freshman blocks record. 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. Penn's total also ranks fifth on the UI single-season blocks list.
Postseason Streak: With this year's 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.
Getting Defensive: Coach Jolette Law's trademark is outstanding defense and this year's team has bought into that philosophy. The Illini are holding opponents to 35.4 percent shooting, which ranks second in the Big Ten and in the top-25 nationally. The Illini have held their opponent to under 30 percent shooting eight times this season, most recently in the WNIT first round when they limited WKU to just 22.4 percent from the field, a low for UI opponent this season. Illinois also ranks in the top-10 nationally with 6.1 blocks per game.
The Big 1-0-0: Sunday's game with mark the 100th game for Jolette Law as the head coach at Illinois. The third-year coach is looking to even up her record as she enters the game with a 49-50 overall mark at the helm of the Fighting Illini.
What to Watch For on Sunday
...Lacey Simpson needs five steals to tie and six to break the Big Ten career steals record of 372
...Simpson needs seven rebounds to pass Lynnette Robinson for fourth on the UI career rebounding list
...Jenna Smith needs seven made field goals to break Jonelle Polk's UI career record for field goals made
...Karisma Penn needs 11 points to move into fourth on the UI freshman scoring list
...Illinois needs 12 blocked shots to break the Big Ten's single-season blocks record of 211
...A win would give Illinois 20 wins for the eighth time in school history and the second time in the last three years
...A win would advance Illinois to the semifinals of the WNIT for the first time in school history
Quarterfinal Foe: Illinois State
Illinois State is 27-7 heading into Sunday's game, beating Kansas 71-51 in the WNIT third round at Redbird Arena. The Redbirds also won at Purdue and beat Butler at home in the first to rounds of the WNIT. ISU won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season crown with a 16-2 record, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament after losing to Northern Iowa in the MVC Tournament. The Redbirds have three players scoring in double figures, led by Ashleen Bracey's 15.1 points per game. Bracey also averages 7.8 rebounds and shoots 42 percent from behind the arc. Maggie Krick (14.1 ppg) and Nicolle Lewis (12.1 ppg) also are scoring threats for ISU, with Krick handling the point guard duties and averaging 3.7 assists per game. Bracey and Krick were named to the All-Conference first team this season, while Lewis earned second team honors. Head coach Robin Pingeton was named MVC Coach of the Year and has led ISU to four consecutive 20-win seasons.
The Illinois-Illinois State Series: Illinois owns a 20-12 record over ISU, most recently beating the Redbirds 62-51 in Normal on Nov. 24 this season. The Illini have won eight straight in the series and 13 of the last 14, with the only defeat in that span coming at Redbird Arena on Dec. 3, 1996 (ISU 58, Illinois 63). Illinois is 10-6 against the Redbirds on the road, including four straight wins.
Illini vs. the MVC: Illinois has posted a 3-0 record against Missouri Valley Conference teams this season, with all three wins coming by double-figures against teams that finished in the top-four in the standings. The Illini defeated third-place Bradley, 67-45, at home on Nov. 22, regular-season champ Illinois State, 62-51, on the road on Nov. 24 and third-place Missouri State, 65-53, one the road on Thursday night.
This year vs. ISU
The Illini overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and pulled away down the stretch for a 62-51 victory at Illinois State on Nov. 24. Illinois outscored the Redbirds 38-20 in the second half to win its fourth-straight game, as Jenna Smith led the way with 19 points and nine rebounds. Illinois used an 8-0 run midway through the second half to take control of the game. The Illini trailed 42-40 with 11:48 to play, but responded with two quick buckets to take a 44-42 lead. Illinois would never trail again as its stifling defense held the Redbirds scoreless for a span of 5:12 while opening up a 48-42 lead with under seven minutes left. Lacey Simpson had 14 points for the Illini, who shot 47 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the line.
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 8-6 overall in the WNIT after Thursday's win.
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 prior to this season, the Illini have won their first game and lost the second. This year marks the first time Illinois has won three games in a post season tournament (WNIT or NCAA) in school history. The Orange and Blue are 6-2 all-time in WNIT games played in Champaign and are 2-4 in games on the road, with both wins coming this season.
Block Party in the USA
The Fighting Illini have already broken the school record for blocks in a season, racking up 200 blocks on the year compared to just 81 for their opponents. The old team record of 156 was set in 2007-08 and the Big Ten record of 211 by Michigan State in 2006-07 is within reach. Illinois blocked a single-game school record 12 shots on Feb. 4 at Purdue and then matched that total with 12 blocks at Missouri State on March 25. Jenna Smith had a school-record seven swats in the Purdue game. For the season, Illinois ranks in the top-10 nationally and second in the Big Ten at 6.1 bpg.
This season the Fighting Illini are...
...11-0 when their opponent attempt less free throws
...16-2 when holding opponents to less than 60 points
...14-2 when holding opponents under 35 percent from field
...14-2 when shooting over 40 percent from the field
...12-2 when leading at halftime
...17-4 when shooting better than their opponent
...13-4 in day games (starting before 5 p.m. local time)
...10-4 when their opponent has more turnovers
...11-7 when coming off a win in the previous game
Watch Out for Jenna
Smith in Elite Club: Senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith is one of just seven players in the nation to average 18+ points and 10+ rebounds per game. With averages of 18.3 points and 11.5 boards, Smith joins Middle Tennessee State's Alysha Clark, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Nebraska's Kelsey Griffin, Columbia's Judie Lomax, Louisiana Tech's Shanavia Dowdell and Southern Mississippi's Pauline Love in the 18-10 club.
And Then There Were Two: Smith is one of just two players in Big Ten history to rank in the conference's career top-10 in points, rebounds and blocked shots. Smith ranks 10th in points, second in rebounds and ninth in blocks, to join former Ohio State Buckeye Jessica Davenport as the only two players in the all-time top-10 in all three categories.
Best Boarder in the Big Ten: With 17 rebounds at Missouri State on Thursday, Smith became the Big Ten's single-season rebounding leader. Her season total of 379 boards this year passes the old record of 374 set by Ohio State's Jantel Lavender last season. Smith also had a Big Ten Tournament single-game record 19 boards on March 4 vs. the Hoosiers.
Making 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 and is a finalist for WBCA All-America honors.
Record Breaker: Smith will undoubtedly go down is one of the best players in school history as she's already the Illinois career leader in points (2,148), rebounds (1,209), blocked shots (229), double-doubles (53), field goals attempted (1,628), games started (120) and minutes played (4,522) and has a chance to top the field goals made list as she ranks second on that list. Take a look at where Smith ranks on all the Illinois record list on pages 8-9.
Just One of the Guys: Smith is not just the UI women's all-time leader in points and rebounds, but she has also eclipsed the UI men's records in both categories. Her point total of 2,148 tops Deon Thomas' men's mark of 2,129 and her rebounding total of 1,209 shatters James Augustine's men's record of 1,029.
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 10th in the nation at 88.2 percent for all games. Her career percentage of 81.0 ranks fifth in Illinois history and she ranks second on the Illinois career free throws made list with 486, behind only Ashley Berggren's record of 562. She has been especially good as of late, making 51 of her last 54 from the charity stripe (.944).
From Way Downtown: Smith has always had a soft touch from outside the paint, but this year she has stepped outside more than ever before with much success. The 6-3 center hit a career-high five threes on six attempts against Northwestern on Feb. 11 and has made a career-high 28 three-pointers so far this season. She is shooting a respectable 38.4 percent from downtown for the year.
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 seventh in rebounding while also serving as a lockdown defender on the perimeter.
Climbing BT Charts: Simpson is currently in second on the Big Ten career steals list with 367. Already the Illinois career steals leader, Simpson is five steals away from Stacey Thomas' (Michigan, 1997-00) Big Ten record of 372. 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.
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 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, a team-high 3.8 assists and a Big Ten-leading 3.4 steals per game. She ranks in the top-15 in the conference in nine categories (steals, assists, assist-TO ratio, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks, FG percentage, 3FG percentage and rebounds).
Dropping Dimes: With a team-high 125 assists this season, Simpson is the first player in school history to record 100+ assists in four different seasons. She has 449 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 (367) and games played (134). She also ranks second in blocked shots (162), games started (117) and minutes played (4,125), third in assists (449) and fifth in rebounds (890), while also climbing up both the three point field goals list (9th) and scoring (17th) lists. See pages 8-9 for a complete list of updated Illini and Big Ten records.
College Grad: Simpson, a fifth-year senior, earned her bachelor's degree in sport management last May and is currently pursuing a master's degree in human resource education as she completes her final year of athletic eligibility.
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 20.6 points and 9.7 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 10.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 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 on Jan. 28, Magrum has stepped-up to average 6.6 points per game and is shooting 47 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 upped her scoring average from 1.8 to 4.0 points per game since making her first start against Michigan.
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 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 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.
No Sophomore Slump
There was a lot of talk about Illinois' talented freshman class heading into this season, but the sophomore class of Macie Blinn, Lydia McCully, Fabiola Josil and Eboni Mitchell has proven they shouldn't be overlooked.
McCully has stepped up to average 9.0 points and 5.2 rebounds in five postseason games and she scored a season-high 14 points at Missouri State on March 25. On Feb. 3 at Iowa, she hit all three of her three-pointers on her way to 11 points. Blinn was key in Illinois' comeback win over Minnesota on Jan. 10, scoring five second-half points, and then followed that up with five points at Ohio State on Jan. 14. Josil, meanwhile, has provided steady ball handling and leadership at the point throughout the season. Mitchell has made the most of her limited minutes, despite suffering a broken nose in practice in December and having to wear a face mask.
In addition to the sophomores, second-year transfer Whitney Toone has made a big impact as well. She shattered her previous career-high of 13 points by exploding for 20 against WKU in the first round of the WNIT. She had 18 of her 20 points in the first half as the Illini built up a 14-point lead and also tied her career-high with seven rebounds in the game.
Toone has made 11 starts this season and provided a big spark with her defensive intensity early in the season, particularly against Alabama on Nov. 29 (career-high three steals, five offensive rebounds, four points and three assists). She scored 12 points at Ohio State on Jan. 14.
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.
PINK Uniforms Up For Auction
Fighting Illini basketball fans currently have the opportunity to bid for the men's and women's uniforms worn during their 2010 "Pink" games at fightingillini.com. The online auction features a team-autographed pink women's #1 jersey and a pair of game shorts worn during Illinois' Feb. 7 Pink Zone game against Indiana, in addition an unused pair of pink game shoes. There are also 10 autographed men's jerseys, 14 pairs of shorts an two pairs of men's shoes up for auction until April 5. Portions of the proceeds from the auction will benefit the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund and Coaches vs. Cancer.