Jenna Smith and the Illini face their second straight ranked opponent when Virginia comes to Assemly Hall Thursday night.
Dec. 3, 2008
On The Air
TV: Big Ten Network (Leah Secondo, play-by-play, Brenda VanLengen, analyst)
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS AM 1400 and WDAN AM 1490 (Dave Loane, play-by-play, Mike Koon, analyst)
Internet: fightingillini.com streaming audio (All-Access subscription required) and Gametracker livestats (free)
Virginia leads 3-0 overall. The teams have never met in Champaign.
Last meeting: Virginia 72, Illinois 56 on March 22, 2003 in Knoxville, Tenn. (NCAA Tournament First Round)
Illinois: Jolette Law, 23-19 overall and at Illinois (second season)
Virginia: Debbie Ryan, 680-290 overall and at Virginia (32nd season)
For Openers: Illinois (3-4) will try to snap a four-game skid this Thursday when it returns to Assembly Hall to face No. 20/19 Virginia (5-2) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The game, which is set to tip-off just after 7:30 p.m., will be televised by the Big Ten Network with Leah Secondo and Brenda VanLengen calling the action.
Program Milestones: The win over Eastern Illinois on Nov. 16 was the 200th for the Illini at Assembly Hall, but that isn't the only milestone the program is approaching this season. Illinois is three wins away from the 500th victory in program history (497-473), and once conference play starts, the Illini will need five victories for 200 all-time Big Ten wins (195-247).
Law Inks Highly Ranked Recruiting Class: Jolette Law signed the best recruiting class in school history Nov. 12, the first day of the fall signing period. The class was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz at the end of the early signing period. See page 5 for more information on the recruits.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
Thursday's game is part of the second annual ACC/Big Ten Women's Basketball Challenge. Last season, the ACC won the inaugural event 8-3. Illinois dropped its first-ever Challenge game at NC State, 61-47.
The Full Challenge Schedule for 2008:
Wednesday, Dec. 3
#21/24 Michigan State at Georgia Tech 3 p.m. CT
Penn State at Florida State 6 p.m. CT
#2/2 N. Carolina at #18/18 Ohio State (BTN) 6 p.m. CT
Thursday, Dec. 4
#8/11 Maryland at #17/20 Purdue (BTN) 5:30 p.m. CT
Iowa at #12/14 Duke 6 p.m. CT
Northwestern at Clemson 6 p.m. CT
Boston College at Minnesota (BTN.com) 7 p.m. CT
Virginia Tech at Wisconsin (BTN.com) 7 p.m. CT
#20/19 Virginia at Illinois (BTN) 7:30 p.m. CT
Friday, Dec. 5
N.C. State at Michigan (BTN) 5:30 p.m. CT
Indiana at Miami 6 p.m. CT
Scouting the Cavaliers
Virginia enters Thursday's game with a 5-2 record after a 69-62 loss to Gonzaga on Sunday. The Cavaliers had a signature win on Nov. 17 when they defeated No. 5 and defending national champs Tennessee in Knoxville, 83-82. UVA returns four starters from last year's squad that went 24-10 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, they were picked fourth in the ACC preseason coaches poll.
All-American junior guard Monica Wright leads the Cavaliers, averaging 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game. 6-3 senior center Aisha Mohammed is averaging a double-double (13.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and freshman guard Whitny Edwards is also scoring in double-figures at 11.0 points per game. The Cavaliers are coached by Debbie Ryan, who is 680-300 in her 32nd season at UVA.
A Look at the Illinois-UVA Series: Virginia leads the overall series 3-0. Thursday's game will be the first time the teams meet on a home floor as all three previous meetings came at neutral sites. The most recent meeting between the two teams came in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament, with No. 9 seeded Virginia topping the No. 8 seeded Illini 72-56 in Knoxville, Tenn. Prior to that, the teams met at the 1984 Women's Court Classic in Miami and the 1986 Stanford Tournament in Palo Alto, Calif., with the Cavaliers taking both meetings.
Jenna Climbs the Charts
A Model of Consistency: Junior All-American center Jenna Smith has scored in double-figures in all seven games this year and in 15 straight games dating back to last season, the second-longest current streak in the Big Ten. In all, she has scored in double-figures in 43 of the last 44 games dating back to her freshman year.
Double-Trouble: Smith had her first double-double of the season Nov. 23 against Temple with 17 points and 12 rebounds. She now has 23 double-doubles for her career, which is tied for the Big Ten's active lead and for fifth on the Illinois career list.
Jenna Reaches 1,000: Smith went over 1,000 career points when she poured in 29 at IPFW on Nov. 14. Smith is the 22nd player in school history to reach the milestone and is the seventh fastest to do so, accomplishing the feat in 66 games. Smith now has 1,112 points in her career and ranks 17th on the Illinois all-time scoring list. She jumped two spots last week and needs just five points to move past Angie McClellan and into 16th place.
Block Party: Joining the 1,000-point club isn't the only milestone Smith surpassed during the opening weekend. Her five blocked shots against Eastern Illinois not only tied her career-high, but also put her over 100 career blocks. She is the fifth player in school history to crack that barrier, and with 110 blocks already, the school record of 156 career blocks is well within reach of the junior center.
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.
Simpson Starting Fast
Stealing the Show: Junior forward Lacey Simpson leads Big Ten and ranks 13th in the nation in steals per game (3.71). 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, just short of Shavonna Hunter's school record of 10.
All-Around Player: Simpson does it all for the Orange and Blue. She ranks in the top-10 in the conference in six different categories, leading the way in steals and ranking fourth in minutes played (36.0) and sixth in rebounds per game (8.6).
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. She nearly had the second triple-double in school history with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting, nine rebounds and nine steals in the season-opener. Then in the Nov. 16 win over EIU, Simpson tallied her fifth career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. She scored a career-high 18 points and added six steals against Missouri.
Illini Iron Woman
Redshirt freshman Lydia McCully has been a constant on the court for the Orange and Blue this season. She has played all but two minutes in the last five games and leads the Big Ten in minutes played per game (37.7). She played the full 45 minutes in the overtime game vs. Montana and played all 40 minutes in three other games. A two-minute break against South Dakota State is the only rest she's had in the last two weeks.
McCully has scored double-figures in four of those five games, including a career-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting against SDSU. One night later against #10 Maryland, she hit 4-of-7 from three-point land for 12 points. She leads the team from downtown on the season, hitting nine threes at a 38 percent clip, and is third on the team in scoring at 9.9 points per game.
Back on the Floor
Already thin in numbers with only 10 players on the roster, the Illini have also been hampered by injuries early in the season. However, things are looking up as freshman Eboni Mitchell played 20+ minutes in two games in Cancun last week after playing only three minutes all year to that point while recovering from a stress fracture in her foot. Mitchell played 22 minutes and scored six points against Montana and then logged 21 minutes and scored two points against Maryland.
In addition to Mitchell, senior Chelsea Gordon, who was the team's Best Defensive Player each of the last two years, returned to play in the final two games in Cancun after missing two games since injuring her ankle vs. Missouri on Nov. 19. Gordon played 20 minutes against Maryland.
Thompson Added to Roster
Coach Jolette Law has added Melissa Thompson to the Fighting Illini roster as a walk-on. Thompson is a freshman and attended John Hope High School in Chicago, Ill., last season. Thompson has yet to play in a game. She brings the Illinois roster to 10 players.
Illinois struggled last week at the Caribbean Challenge tournament in Cancun, Mexico. The Illini dropped all three games at the Thanksgiving-week event, two of them by two points. Here is a breakdown of the games in Cancun:
Nov. 26 vs. Montana: Illinois dropped a heartbreaker to Montana on day one of the Caribbean Challenge. Mandy Morales hit a running 15-footer with 0.7 seconds left in overtime to give the Lady Griz a 59-57 victory. The Fighting Illini had a chance to win at the end of regulation with the score tied 49-49, but junior Lacey Simpson's shot rattled in-and-out as the buzzer sounded sending the game to overtime. In the extra period, redshirt freshman Lydia McCully got an open three for the lead with 8.3 seconds left but it was off the mark, setting up Morales' heroics.
Nov. 27 vs. South Dakota State: Illinois dropped its second heartbreaker in as many days, falling 62-60 to South Dakota State on day two of the Caribbean Challenge. Jenna Smith led the way with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting and Lydia McCully had a career-high 15 points. The Illini led by 13 at halftime and by as many as 15 early in the second half, but the Jackrabbits surged ahead with an 11-0 run midway through the second half. Illinois would tie it up four times after that, but couldn't get over the hump down the stretch. The back-breaking shot came after SDSU's Jennifer Warkenthien got an offensive rebound with just over a minute left and then knocked down an three later in the possession to put Illinois down 60-57 with 36.6 seconds left.
Nov. 28 vs. #10/14 Maryland: Illinois finished out the Caribbean Challenge with a 79-52 loss to No. 10/14 Maryland. Jenna Smith led three Illini in double-figures with 21 points. The Illini came out cold and fell into a big hole early as the Terrapins raced out to a 17-5 lead. They would stay hot and extend it to a 37-10 advantage with just over four minutes to play in the half, but Illinois finished with a 13-2 run to close the gap to 39-23 at halftime. In the second half, Maryland blew the game open with an early 10-0 run and cruised from there. For Illinois, Lydia McCully knocked down 4-of-7 from three-point land to finish with 12 points and Lacey Simpson had eight points and 13 rebounds.
Coming Up Next
Illinois will have a quick turnaround following Thursday night's game. The Fighting Illini will head up to Chicago for the annual Lexus December to Remember Classic at the United Center where they'll face Bradley on Saturday, Dec. 6, at approximately 1:30 p.m. The game will be the back-end of a double-header with the Illini men, who play Georgia at 11 a.m.
Illinois continued its recent dominance at last year's Lexus December To Remember Classic at the United Center with a 73-46 win over Chicago State. The Illini are 7-2 all-time at the home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, and have won the last five in-a-row by an average of 33 points.
Tickets for the games at the United Center game can be purchased at ticketmaster.com and start as low as $25.
"Pack the Hall" On Jan. 3
Illinois has announced it will attempt to "Pack the Hall" for it's January 3 game against Minnesota that will be televised nationally by CBS. Free, full-color commemorative tickets for "Pack The Hall" are available for pickup now at the News-Gazette, WDWS/WHMS, the Illinois Athletic Ticket Office, and at both Gameday Spirit stores while supplies last.
The game will be Illinois' first women's basketball game on CBS since 2002, when the Illini played Mississippi State at the United Center. It will also be the first time since 1998 that Illinois has hosted a women's basketball game broadcast by CBS at Assembly Hall.
Get to Know The Illini
Illinois and the Big Ten Conference have launched the "Get to Know Her" campaign this season, a fully integrated effort that will allow fans to see the non-basketball sides of their favorite student-athletes. Elements of the Get to Know Her campaign include a fan club, theme nights, a weekly newsletter, Big Ten Network-produced PSAs, video and print feature stories, a Facebook page and fan rewards.
At Illinois games, a Fighting Illini player will be featured on the game poster and in video segments throughout the game to help fans Get to Know the student-athlete better. Popular video segments include "Pop-up Video," "This or That" and "Movie Quotes."
In addition, as part of the Get to Know Her campaign, each Illinois player has been adopted by an area grade school. The adopted player will visit the school once a month to act as a positive role model for students.
Fans can sign up to be members of the Get to Know Her Club at all Illinois women's basketball home games at a kiosk near the main entrance on the west side of Assembly Hall starting with Thursday's game against Virginia.