Freshmen display strong potential

By Derek Barichello

The women’s basketball team showed its potential in Monday’s exhibition game as the Illini defeated the Ohio Girls Basketball Report Legends 75-55 at Assembly Hall.

Each of the Illini’s six freshmen received playing time and pitched in.

“I see a lot of depth and energy in them,” senior guard Janelle Hughes said.

The first spark came from freshman guard Lori Bjork’s three-point shooting. Bjork hit the first two shots of the game for the Illini from beyond the arc, giving the Illini an early 6-2 lead. She added another three-pointer in the first half and finished with 11 points to lead all freshmen.

“When Lori hit those threes, it opened everything up for us,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “If she doesn’t hit those shots, we might have been in a different game. It gave our team a lot of confidence.”

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Although Bjork was able to get the Illini going, the OGBR Legends tightened their defense and shut her down. Bjork only shot twice more from beyond the arc, missing both.

Grentz said that is an aspect of Bjork’s game the team will work on in practice.

“They aren’t going to let her get the ball,” Grentz said. “They are going to work on trapping her and keeping the ball out of her hands. She is going to have to work for her shots.”

Guard Chelsea Gordon chipped in eight points and guard Lacey Simpson added seven points and three steals, while forward Victoria Arndt impressed Grentz with a one-handed offensive rebound and guard Danielle Gratton dished out three assists. Center Erin McCarthy, using her 6-foot-5-inch height, showed her defensive abilities with a blocked shot.

“We’re working hard at practice,” Gordon said. “These games are really helping to get our feet wet. We are still adjusting to things.”

Hughes said the upperclassmen need to do better jobs of helping the freshmen adjust.

“We need to talk a little more,” Hughes said. “We have six freshmen trying to get used to things.”

The freshmen were not the only ones who showed success. Senior guard Maggie Acuna accumulated 10 assists, while Hughes added 11 points, hitting her only shot from three-point land.

The star of the night, though, was junior forward-center Audrey Tabon. She scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

Grentz said Tabon’s strong play comes as no surprise.

“Audrey is so determined,” Grentz said. “She is a great person. She has such a good character, and she is so willing to give whatever it takes for the team.”

It was not all pretty on Monday. The Illini turned the ball over 11 times in the first half.

“It is only their second game together,” Grentz said. “We’re moving in the right direction. We finished with more assists (21) than turnovers (16) – that was one of our goals.”

Junior forward Erin Wigley did not play in the exhibition because of a sore back and is day to day. Redshirt freshman guard Megan Nyquist did not play because of a knee injury. She will be out a couple of weeks.

“Wigley’s back was bothering her, and she could have played, but we didn’t want to jeopardize her health by playing her,” Grentz said. “I feel bad because I didn’t know the Wigleys came to see her play.”

Overall, Grentz said she has a good feeling about this year’s team.

“This team is coachable and wants to be good,” Grentz said. “They want to do the right things. I want to get them used to winning games.”