Illinois outplays Butler in opener


Senior forward Erin Wigley, 34, is fouled by sophomore center, Lade Akande, 55, while putting the ball up during the first half at Assembly Hall, Sunday, November 12, 2006. John Paul Goguen The Daily Illini

By Dave Fultz

The Illini women’s basketball team opened up their regular season with a bang on Sunday as they earned a hard-fought win against the Lady Bulldogs of Butler University. After jumping out to an early 12-4 lead, Butler kept the game close but the Orange and Blue were just too much in the final three and a half minutes.

Illinois out-worked Butler at the end of the game and ended with a 65-47 victory. It was a game of runs as the score seesawed between a blowout and a nail-biter.

“It was the first game, and anytime you have a first game, there is going to be those kinds of runs,” said head coach Theresa Grentz after the game. “But I thought that we were able to control the game from a defensive standpoint.”

The Illini out-rebounded Butler 30-16 and out-hustled them on loose balls and missed shots. Butler ran their offense the way they wanted to run it, but the Illini defense reacted well and kept the game in control.

“You’ve got to give Butler credit,” Grentz said. “They came down here and they ran their offense and shot 22 threes. That is a tough way to try and win a game. I really liked our hustle.”

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    The Illini were strong on defense from the first whistle but needed a little prodding on the offensive side of the ball. Redshirt freshman Lacey Simpson keyed the defense with three steals and seven rebounds, both game highs. She contributed just as much offensively as she had game highs with 17 points and three offensive rebounds.

    “My main focus was on defense,” Simpson said. “Our main goal is just to communicate and work well together.”

    “Lacey was someone who had the full package coming in,” Grentz said, “but she sort of flew under the radar and no one really knew what she was all about because she sat out most of last year. But I think it’s not how you start something, it’s how you finish.”

    Sophomore forward Chelsea Gordon was the second highest scorer on the team with 12 points and also contributed defensively. After playing in 31 games last year, Gordon got her first start on Sunday afternoon.

    “Chelsea was player of the year in Pittsburgh,” Grentz said, “but she played on the inside. She had to make a vast adjustment when she came to college to play the perimeter.”

    “It was nice to come out and start in my first home game,” Gordon said. “We ended up winning by 18 points, but there are a lot of things that we still have to work on.”

    The turning point in the game came with a little more than three minutes left in the game as the Illini took control. Butler had closed the lead to eleven points with 3:13 left and the Illini held them to just one more point in the last three-plus minutes.

    “In the last 3:30, it didn’t matter what we did on the offensive end,” Grentz said. “As long as we did what we needed to do on defense, we were going to be okay.”