Illini bounce back from loss to crush Gators with ‘energetic’ game

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s basketball team took their 75-50 loss on Saturday to Ole Miss out on one of the Rebels’ fellow SEC teams, crushing the Florida Gators (4-5) Tuesday at Assembly Hall. The Illini scored a season-high 80 points and held the Gators to just 57 to improve their record to 7-2.

“Whatever went wrong at Ole Miss, they got right today,” Florida Gators head coach Carolyn Peck said of the Illini.

After the Illini won the opening tip, they seemed to pick up right where they left off on Saturday, as sophomore guard Lori Bjork immediately turned the ball over on a pass to freshman forward Jenna Smith.

Initially, the Illini responded poorly to Florida’s press, turning the ball over three times in the first 4:30 as a result of the Gators’ trap. The Illini were down 15-9 before head coach Theresa Grentz called a timeout to regroup her players.

After the stoppage, Illinois scored 11 consecutive points to take the lead 19-15 and then, with the score tied 20-20 went on a 17-point unanswered streak. During the two runs combined, Smith, who was making her first start of the season, scored eight of her team-high 22 points.

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Grentz said her decision to start Smith came from the center’s play in practice.

“There was just a situation I thought happened in practice that said something to me that I was going to make a change,” Grentz said. “Once we attacked inside, they had no answer for Jenna Smith. So why kill yourself on the outside when you know you have a solid thing inside?”

“She has the physical talent and the heart to be able to play,” she added.

Smith also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Illini to notch the double-double. The reigning Ms. Basketball of Minnesota said her performance was helped by the team’s energy coming into the game.

“After our Mississippi game we all just came together and said we need to start playing as a team,” Smith said. “We were getting more hyper, more energetic, to boost each other up and show that we had each other’s back.”

Illinois saw all nine active players score at least two points and had four players in double-figures. Sophomore guard Chelsea Gordon scored over 10 points for the third consecutive game with her 14-point performance.

The Illini defense forced the Gators to take tough shots and grabbed 41 of Florida’s misses off the boards. Florida only had 11 offensive rebounds leading to just 7 second chance points, as Illinois outrebounded their opponent 54-33.

Illinois heads to the United Center on Saturday to play Rhode Island (1-8) in the Lexus December to Remember Classic.