Simpson stands out in Illini win

By Dave Fultz

The Illini women’s basketball team picked up right where they left off on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall. The orange and blue jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over Lewis University in the first two minutes and never looked back. Lewis trailed by 33 points at the half and the Illini went on to win by a final margin of 96-49.

Illinois got off to a quick start, shooting 74 percent from the field in the first half, including 50 percent from behind the arc as the starting five missed only seven shots. By the end of the game, the Illini had shot 64 percent from the field and 56 percent from three-point land.

After scoring 83 points against DePaul in their last game, Lewis was stymied by the Illini’s stingy defense. They won the game defensively by forcing Lewis to shoot just 29 percent from the field and held an astounding 61-17 lead over the Flyers in total rebounds.

The three standout performers for the Illini were redshirt freshman forward Lacey Simpson, true freshman center Jenna Smith, and sophomore guard Lori Bjork.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Simpson excited the crowd when she stole the ball from a Flyer guard, split two defenders with a behind-the-back move and laid it in.

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    “I don’t know what happened,” Simpson said. “I just tried it and it worked out. I couldn’t believe it even after I did it.”

    Head coach Theresa Grentz was pleased with the play of her athletic guard and didn’t mind the flashy move.

    “You’re going to see those hustle plays out of Lacey all season,” Grentz said. “I don’t care what they do with the ball, as long as it goes in. I just told her to get back on defense, that’s all.”

    Simpson provided for her team in all phases of the game and notched a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds to go along with seven assists. Her hustle on defense ignited the Illini early on and she finished with a game-high three steals.

    “Coach told me I needed to step it up,” said Simpson after the game. “I guess I’m going to be the defensive stopper this season. I’ve really been focused on that in practice. I’ve been working really hard at it.”

    Smith, a 6-foot-3 forward/center and Minnesota’s reigning Ms. Basketball, looked more comfortable in the paint as the game progressed. She went 6-for-6 from the field in the first half and finished with 18 points for the game.

    “(Smith) played very well tonight,” Grentz said, “(She’s) going to be a force to be reckoned with this year.”

    After scoring 26 points in Friday’s game against Clarion University, Bjork was on fire from the opening whistle. Even an experimental 20’6” three-point line couldn’t slow her down, as she went 4-for-6 from behind the arc.

    “I feel really comfortable out there,” Bjork said, “I just like having the ball in my hands. I like to catch and shoot.”

    “Lori has worked on her shot,” Grentz said. “She has practiced, practiced, practiced, and it’s paying off. The team has confidence in her and that is what is important.”

    As the team nears their first regular season match-up, against Butler University on Sunday, Grentz is optimistic going into the season.

    “This team is going to be fun to watch,” Grentz said. “By the end of the year, I want them to be ranked. We are going to keep on pushing until we get there.”