Women's Basketball
Illini Head to Miami for Thanksgiving Tournament

Rebecca Harris and the Illini will spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Miami.
Rebecca Harris and the Illini will spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Miami.

Nov. 21, 2007

Complete Illinois Women's Basketball Notes for the FIU Thanksgiving Classic (PDF) Get Acrobat Reader

Games 5 & 6: Illinois (3-1) at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic
Friday & Sunday, Nov. 23 & 25, 2007 // Pharmed Arena (5,000) // Miami, Fla.

FIU Thanksgiving Classic Schedule
Friday, Nov. 23
Florida International (1-2) vs. Providence (3-1) - 5:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. CT
Illinois (3-1) vs. South Carolina (3-1) - 7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT

Sunday, Nov. 25
Consolation Game - Noon ET / 11 a.m. CT
Championship Game - 2 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT

On The Air
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM 1400 (Patrick Pfingsten)
Tape delayed after Illini volleyball on Friday, live on Sunday
Internet Audio: Live on fightingillini.com (requires Illini All-Access subscription)
Live Stats: fightingillini.com and fiusports.com

The Series
SC: Illinois and South Carolina have not met
FIU: Illinois and Florida International have not met
Providence: Illinois leads 1-0 - Last meeting: Illinois 106, Providence 74 (11/28/97 in San Juan, Puerto Rico)

The Coaches
Illinois: Jolette Law, 3-1 overall and at Illinois (first season)
SC: Susan Walvius, 250-246 overall (18th season) and 152-145 at South Carolina (11th season)
FIU: Cindy Russo, 610-268 overall (31st season) and 570-246 at FIU (29th season)
Providence: Phil Seymore, 24-36 overall and at Providence (third season)

Quick Hits
• The Tournament: Illinois (3-1) heads to the Sunshine State this weekend for the FIU Thanksgiving Classic in Miami, Fla. The Illini will leave Champaign on Wednesday and spend Thanksgiving in Miami before opening tournament play on Friday, Nov. 23, against South Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT. Illinois will then either play host Florida International or Providence on Sunday in the championship (2 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT) or consolation game (Noon ET / 11 a.m. CT).

• Smith Pours in 32: Sophomore Jenna Smith was outstanding in Illinois' 63-53 win over Southern Illinois on Sunday, scoring a career-high 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds. The point total was the most for an Illini since Allison Curtin scored 35 vs. Iowa on March 3, 2001.

• Up Next: After this weekend's tournament, the Illini will head to North Carolina State to face the Wolfpack on Thursday, Nov. 29, in the inaugural Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Following that, they'll return home for a pair of games against Illinois-Chicago (Dec. 2) and No. 10/11 Oklahoma (Dec. 5).

Breaking Down the Field
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are 3-1 on the season after a 70-63 loss to Penn State on Tuesday night in Columbia, S.C. SC has home wins over St. Francis, Pa., (93-33), Virginia (66-64) and Buffalo (66-54). Junior forward Demetress Adams (15.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and junior guard Brionna Dickerson (15.5 ppg) lead the way for South Carolina. Last season, the Gamecocks were 18-15 overall, 6-8 in the SEC and advanced to the third round of the WNIT.

Florida International: FIU is 1-2 with a season-opening win over Lynn (70-62) and back-to-back losses at the DePaul Invitational against the Blue Demons (89-77) and Florida State (70-50). The Golden Panthers are led by 5-8 guard LaQuetta Ferguson, who averages 20.7 points per game and poured in 30 against DePaul. FIU was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt East Division preseason poll. Last season, the Golden Panthers were 16-14 overall and 9-9 in Sun Belt play, which was good for third in the East.

Providence: The Friars are 3-1 after a 55-51 home victory over Manhattan Tuesday night. Providence boasts wins over Brown (79-45) and Iona (73-64) with its loss coming at the hands of Hartford (77-60). Sophomore forward Emily Cournoyer (10.0 ppg) leads a balanced Friar attack that has six players average between 7.7 and 10.0 points per game. Junior guard Chelsea Marandola, who led the team in scoring last season at 17.3 ppg, has not played this season due to injury. Providence was picked 15th out of 16 teams in the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll. Last season, the Friars went 13-16 overall and 3-13 in the Big East.

Middleton to Face Alma Mater
Illinois assistant coach Karen Middleton will be squaring-off against her alma mater when the Illini face South Carolina on Friday night. Middleton was a four-year letterwinner at SC from 1988-1991, leading the Gamecocks to four NCAA Tournament appearances. She was a team captain, team MVP and a two-time All-Metro Conference selection during her career and finished as the fifth-leading scorer in school history with 1,714 career points.

Middleton, a native of Monroe, S.C., graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from South Carolina in 1991. She also earned an Interdisciplinary Master of Arts in Physical Education from South Carolina in 1993.

Smith Off to Fast Start
• Another Career Game: Jenna Smith continued her hot start with a career-high 32 point, 10 rebound performance against Southern Illinois on Sunday. It was her third double-double in four games this season. The sophomore hit 13-of-19 from the field and scored 11 straight points for the Illini at one point in the second half. For the season, she is averaging 20.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 65 percent from the field.

• Big Ten Player of the Week: Smith got her sophomore campaign off to a fast start, setting or tying career-high in points, rebounds and assists in the first two games. In the opening weekend Smith averaged 19.0 points, 16.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting 67 percent from the field (14-of-21) and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the opening week. For her efforts, Smith picked up her first career Big Ten Player of the Week honor on Nov. 12. She is the first Illini to earn the weekly conference accolade since Danyel Crutcher on Dec. 19, 2005.

Against Eastern Illinois in the opener, Smith had a career-high 19 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards, and added 16 points and three blocks. Her 19 boards tied for the seventh most in school history and were the most for an Illini in 18 years. Then in the Nov. 11 victory over UW-Milwaukee, Smith put up a career-high tying 22 points to go along with 13 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Maybe more impressive than her offensive numbers, however, was Smith's defense on reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Traci Edwards. Edwards was held to just 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting with Smith serving as the primary defender.

• Conference Leader: Smith ranks in the top-four in the Big Ten in eight categories and is the leader in two, rebounding (12.3) and defensive rebounds (8.3). She also ranks second in scoring (20.5) and offensive rebounds (4.0). Last season, Smith led the league in offensive rebounds in Big Ten play.

Pressure `D' Already Catching On
Jolette Law's pressure defense looks to be catching on fast with the Fighting Illini. Through the first four games Illinois is averaging 8.5 steals per game and is allowing just 55.2 points per game, which both rank fourth in the Big Ten. Last year Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in steals at 5.55 per game.

Crashing the Boards
After leading the Big Ten in rebounding and rebounding margin a year ago, the Illini are back to their board-crashing ways this season. Led by Jenna Smith's conference-leading 12.3 boards per game, Illinois has a +8.2 rebounding margin, which ranks fourth in the league.

Making the Freebies
Illinois ranked 24th in the nation last year in free throw percentage and it appears the Illini have picked up right where they left off at the charity stripe. So far, Illinois has knocked down 72-of-92 free throws (.783), which is good for third best in the league. Lori Bjork (19-for-20) leads the way from the line at 95 percent.

No Block Party
While Illinois is averaging 4.0 blocks per game, led by Jenna Smith's 2.5, the Illini have been able to avoid getting swatted on the offensive end. Only one of Illinois' 195 shots this season has been blocked.

Illini in the Rankings
After last season's fourth place Big Ten finish, expectations are high for Illinois in 2007-08, and some voters have taken notice. The Orange and Blue were ranked 21st in the CBS Sportsline.com/Basketball News Preseason Top-25 and have received votes in each of this year's Associated Press polls. This week, the Illini received three votes, ranking 46th overall.

Big Ten Takes Early Lead in Inaugural Challenge
The Inaugural Big Ten/ACC Women's Basketball Challenge opened on Monday as Michigan defeated Miami, 65-50, to give the Big Ten an early one-game lead. The Challenge continues on Nov. 28 when Northwestern hosts Wake Forest at 7 p.m. ET and Iowa welcomes Georgia Tech for a 9 p.m. CT tip. Illinois will face North Carolina State on the road on Nov. 29 as part of the Challenge.