Illini Open Big Ten Play Thursday at Northwestern
Dec. 26, 2007
Game 12: Illinois (8-3) at Northwestern (4-8)
On The Air
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
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
Let's Play One
Smith Enjoying Sophomore Surge
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
Pressure `D' Catching On
More Illini Tidbits
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.