Women’s basketball pulls away in second half

Womens basketball pulls away in second half

By Steve Contorno

CHICAGO – Maybe it was because they were playing just a few miles from the Christmas decorations of downtown Chicago, but for whatever reason, the Illinois women’s basketball team was in the giving spirit on Saturday.

The Illini (8-2) tallied a season-high 27 assists on 33 field goals en route to defeating Rhode Island (1-9) 73-48 at the United Center for the Lexus December to Remember Classic.

“To me, that just speaks volumes about teamwork, passing the ball and handling the ball,” head coach Theresa Grentz said.

“On 33 made field goals, 27 were assisted, that really is a team. What that says is they’re really starting to look for each other, count on each other, encourage each other, and then it becomes fun,” Grentaz said.

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Sophomore guard Lori Bjork led the scoring onslaught for the Illini with 16 points. In 36 minutes of play, Bjork also notched a game-high 7 assists to lead a team that saw every player score and all but two credited for an assist.

The Illini jumped out to a quick lead, scoring 10 of their first 14 points in the paint, with six of them coming from junior forward Danyel Crutcher, who totaled 10 on the day.

Illinois then saw their 8-0 start diminish and, with 10:37 left in the first half, Rhode Island tied the game at 12.

The Rams stayed close until Bjork hit back-to-back three-point shots that developed into a 15-8 run going into the half.

Bjork said the Illini’s ability to establish the block early lead to their outside shots.

“People have to cover our big people inside,” Bjork said. “Jenna (Smith), Crutch, Erin Wigley when she got in there, they’re all finishing. At the same time they recognize that when people start collapsing we got shooters out there.

“If you’re a 30 percent shooter when you got someone flying at you, you’re about a 45-50 percent shooter when you’re wide open.”

In the second half, the Illini distanced themselves from the Rams, outscoring their opponent 41-23.

Illinois dominated the rebounding statistic the entire game, out-boarding Rhode Island 51 to 27.

Grentz said she was happy to see her team working the glass and credited the Illini’s 38 defensive boards on the decision to start freshman center Jenna Smith the past two games.

“We’ve been really struggling with the rebounding situation,” Grentz said.

“I really feel the reason for the turn in the rebounding has been the line-up change. I definitely feel that Jenna Smith in there rebounding has made a definite difference with us being able to get to the boards,” Grentz said.

In her second start of the season, Smith had 10 rebounds, including five of the team’s 13 offensive boards, while also adding eight points and five assists.

Freshman guard Lacey Simpson led both teams in rebounds with 11.

Illinois’ biggest struggle of the day might have been trying to adjust to their early game time, the players said. With the men’s team playing after them at 1 p.m., the Illini had a 10:30 a.m. start to their game.

Crutcher said the team had to generate their energy to get ready to play.

“Today I was on a whole other level,” Crutcher said. “I was screaming in warm-ups, trying to get the team energized because it was 10:30 in the morning and we’re still sleepy. We had to give it an extra boost just to get things going.”

The Illini will take their two-game winning streak back home on Dec. 17 against IPFW after an eight-day break for finals week.

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All photos credit: Brad Vest, The Daily Illini

1. Illinois’ Erin Wigley goes up for a shot during the second half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006.

2. Illinois’ Lacey Simpson comes down with a rebound during the first half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006.

3. Illinois’ Lacey Simpson goes up for a lay up during the second half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006. Simpson had 6 points and 11 rebounds helping the Illini over Rhode Island 73-48.

4. Illinois’ Rebecca Harris takes a shot during the second half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006. Harris finished up the game with 9 points and 4 assists helping the Illini win 73-43.

5. Illinois’ Chelsea Gordon goes up for a shot during the second half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006.

6. Danyel Crutcher goes up for a shot during the first half of Saturday’s game versus Rhode Island at the United Center, December 9, 2006.