Smith is player of week again

By Wesley Deberry

For the second time in the last three weeks, sophomore forward Jenna Smith has been named the Big Ten Conference Player of the Week.

The award comes after her performance at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic in Miami where she was the standout star. Smith averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 steals and one block per game throughout the tournament and saved her best performance for last. In the championship game against Providence, Smith scored 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and was a perfect 13-of-13 from the free-throw line.

Her performance at the tournament also earned her the honor of FIU Thanksgiving Classic MVP.

“Last year I wasn’t the best at shooting free throws,” Smith said. “It was a big key that our coach always focused on.”

This year Smith is shooting 84 percent from the free-throw line. Last season Smith finished with a free-throw average of just more than 77 percent.

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For Smith it has been an adjustment getting into Illini head coach Jolette Law’s up tempo style of offense. But Smith said that she has bought into Law’s philosophy, oftentimes getting rewarded for her hustle in transition.

“Not many post players can run with her,” said Law, adding that many of her points have come in transition.

While Smith appreciates the recognition she got for her performance, she also said it was nice to see smiles on the faces of seniors that had never won a big tournament while at the University.

On Monday the Illini women’s team had the day off, but Law called Smith on Monday night to congratulate her on being selected Player of the Week.

“She motivates me to keep it up, keep going with it, and to keep building onto my game,” Smith said.

And Law said she has tough love for all of her players.

“This is her job,” Law said. “I keep telling her that if you get double-doubles we win … so her goal is in every game to expect to get 10 rebounds.”

Law points to Smith’s hard work in the offseason as the root of her improvement, but problem areas still exist and there is still more the sophomore forward can give.

“OK, (Smith) got the award,” Law said. “But right now we are about to get back to business and work on some things we need to improve on.”

The Illini will hit the court at 6 p.m. on Thursday in Raleigh, N.C., as the women take on North Carolina State.

Smith’s spectacular weekend

Smith averaged 23.0 points, 10.0 rebounds. 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks for the weekend at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic in Miami. She shot 64 percent from the field (16-of-25) and 93 percent from the free-throw line (14-of-15). For the season, Smith has racked up five double-doubles in six games and leads the Big Ten in rebounding (11.5), while ranking second in scoring (21.3), field-goal percentage (.649) and minutes played (36.7).