Women's Basketball
Illini Open Big Ten Play Thursday at Northwestern

Danyel Crutcher had a double-double against Northwestern last season.
Danyel Crutcher had a double-double against Northwestern last season.

Dec. 26, 2007

Complete Illinois-Northwestern Game Notes (PDF) Get Acrobat Reader

Game 12: Illinois (8-3) at Northwestern (4-8)
Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007 // 7 p.m.
Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117) // Evanston, Ill. // Big Ten Network

On The Air
TV: Big Ten Network - DirecTV Ch. 220 and Dish Network Ch. 439 (Dave Eanet and Patricia Babcock McGraw)
Radio: Illini Sports Network - WDWS-AM 1400 and WDAN-AM 1490 (Dave Loane and Mike Koon)
Streaming Audio: Live on fightingillini.com (requires Illini All-Access subscription)
Live Stats: fightingillini.com GameTracker

The Series
Northwestern leads 31-26 overall and 16-9 in Evanston
Streaks: Illinois has won 16 in a row overall and eight straight in Evanston
Last Meeting: Illinois 77, Northwestern 49 (Jan. 28, 2007 @ Champaign, Ill.)

The Coaches
Illinois: Jolette Law, 8-3 overall and at Illinois (first season)
Northwestern Beth Combs, 67-122 overall (seventh season) and 23-77 at Northwestern (fourth season)

Quick Hits
• The Game: Illinois (8-3) travels to Evanston on Thursday to open Big Ten play against the Northwestern Wildcats (4-8). The game, which is set to begin at 7 p.m., will be televised nationally by the Big Ten Network with Dave Eanet and Patricia Babcock McGraw calling the action.

• Big Ten Openers: Illinois is 10-15 all-time in Big Ten openers after last season's thrilling 74-65 overtime win over Penn State at Assembly Hall. The Illini are 5-8 when opening conference play on the road. The last time that happened was a 65-63 Illini win at Michigan to open the 2004-05 season.

• Shaking off the Rust: Illinois will be playing its first game in eight days and just its second in the last 19 days when they take the court against the Wildcats. The Illini had six days off of practice after the win over Missouri to spend time with family and friends around the holidays before reuniting on Wednesday in Evanston for a workout.

• Let's Get it Started: The UI-NU game will have center stage it opens Big Ten play Thursday night. There will be three conference games in Friday after the Illini and Wildcats get things started.

• Smith Making it a Habit: Sophomore sensation Jenna Smith pick-up her third Big Ten player of the Week honor of the season on Sunday after scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 boards against Missouri last week. She is the first Illini to earn the accolade three times in a season since Jonelle Polk did it for times in 1985-86.

• Big Ten Leaders: The Illini are at or near the top of several categories in the latest Big Ten statistical rankings. Jenna Smith leads the league in rebounding (10.6), defensive rebounds (7.3), FG percentage (.618) and minutes (36.8), while ranking second in scoring (19.8). Lacey Simpson leads the league in steals (3.3) and Lori Bjork in FT percentage (.935). As a team, the Orange and Blue top the league in FT percentage (.805) and rebounding defense (28.4) and rank second in scoring margin (+10.0) and FG percentage (.457).

• Up Next: Illinois returns home to Assembly Hall on Sunday for the first time since Dec. 5 to host the Wisconsin Badgers. The game, which it set for 7 p.m., is part of a split double-header after the Illini men host Tennessee State at 3 p.m. Fans that attend the men's game can stay for the women's game, or if they leave they can comeback for the women's game and gain free admittance with their men's ticket stub.

Breaking Down The Wildcats
Northwestern is 4-8 on the season after a 102-64 loss to DePaul on Dec. 20 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The `Cats were led by senior Nadia Bibbs' 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists against the Blue Demons. Bibbs (9.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is one of the leaders of a balanced NU attack that has six players averaging at least 8.0 points per game. The Wildcats have been bolstered by the recent return of freshman phenom Amy Jaeschke, who returned from a broken hand two games ago. In three games this season, Jaeschke is averaging 15.3 points and 4.7.

Illinois and NU have one common opponent in Illinois-Chicago. The Illini topped the Flames 69-57 at Assembly Hall on Dec. 2, while the `Cats fell to them 53-45 on Nov. 14. Prior to their loss to DePaul, NU had an impressive 65-63 road win over Marquette on Dec. 17.

• Combs to Face Alma Mater: Fourth-year Northwestern head coach Beth Combs will go head-to-head against her alma mater for the eighth time Thursday night. The Decatur, Ill., native started her career as an assistant coach at St. Joseph-Ogden High School after graduating from Illinois in 1992. She spent one season on the Illini basketball team and is 0-7 against her alma mater.

The Illinois-Northwestern Series
Illinois trails 31-26 overall, but has won 16 straight and 19 of its last 20 against Northwestern, including eight consecutive games in Evanston. The Illini won the only meeting between the two teams last season, 77-49, at Assembly Hall.

Let's Play One
Thursday's game will be the only regular season meeting between Illinois and Northwestern this season as the Wildcats are one of Illinois' two one-plays this season. Iowa is the only team the Illini will only play once this season. That match-up will take place in Champaign on Jan. 21.

Smith Enjoying Sophomore Surge
Illini forward Jenna Smith has taken off at the start of her sophomore season. She took tournament MVP honors at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic and has been named Big Ten Player of the Week three times already this season. For the year, she is averaging 19.8 points and 10.6 rebounds and is shooting 62 percent from the field and 83 percent from the line. She has led the Illini in scoring and rebounding eight times in 11 games this season.

• Smith Rakes in Honors: Smith has been collecting her share of early-season honors thus far. She has been named Big Ten Player of the Week on three occasions this season (Nov. 12, Nov. 26 and Dec. 24) and claimed Most Valuable Player honors at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic after leading Illinois to the title.

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.

• Double-Trouble: Smith has recorded double-doubles in seven of 11 games this season, which is the most in the Big Ten thus far. She sophomore has 13 double-dips in her career, which is second in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson's 20. Illinois has won all seven games in which Smith recorded a double-double this season and lost three of the four in which she didn't.

• Among the Leaders: Smith ranks in the top-three in the Big Ten in seven categories as of Dec. 22. She leads the league in rebounding (10.6), FG percentage (.618), defensive rebounds (7.3) and minutes (36.8), ranks second in scoring (19.8) and third in blocks (2.0) and offensive rebounds (3.4). Nationally, Smith ranks in the top-50 in four categories, most notably FG percentage, where she ranks 8th.

• 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 Sooner 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.

Toeing the Line
Illinois has done an excellent job getting to the line this season, and an even better job of converting those chances. Illinois leads the league and ranks fifth in the nation in FT percentage (.805), having knocked down 178-of-221 from the charity stripe. Illinois has made 20 more FTs than its opponents have shot on the season (178-158). For the year, Lori Bjork leads the way from the line, shooting a Big Ten best 93.5 percent (29-of-31).

Pressure `D' Catching On
Jolette Law's pressure defense looks to be catching on fast with the Fighting Illini. Through the first 11 games Illinois is averaging 8.73 steals per game, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. Sophomore Lacey Simpson leads the way, as she leads the conference in steals with 3.27 thefts per game. Last year, Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in steals at 5.55 per game.

More Illini Tidbits
• Bjork Moving Up Chart: Junior Lori Bjork hit her 160th career three-pointer in the win over Missouri on Dec. 19. She has hit 23-of-65 on the season and now has 160 career three-pointers, which ranks third on the UI career list and is just eight behind Mandy Cunningham's second place total of 168. Bjork, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, ranks fourth in the Big Ten in three's made per game (2.09).

• UC Home Away From Home: Illinois continued its recent dominance in the annual Lexus December To Remember Classic at the United Center with a 73-46 win over Chicago State on Dec. 8. The Illini are now 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.

• Illini Claim FIU Title: The Orange and Blue claimed their first tournament title since winning the St. Mary's Thanksgiving Tournament during the 2001-02 season by taking two games at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic over Thanksgiving weekend. The Illini easily topped SEC foe South Carolina, 91-58, in the opening round on Nov. 23, before hanging on for a 60-59 win over Big East foe Providence in the title game on Nov. 25.

• Smith, Gordon Nab Tournament Honors: Jenna Smith was named the Most Valuable Player of the Classic after averaging 23.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in leading the Illini to the title. In addition, junior guard Chelsea Gordon also had a great weekend and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Gordon averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds to go along with solid defense to help the Illini bring home the hardware.