Illini, Wolfpack to clash in challenge



By Wesley Deberry

The Illinois women’s basketball team will make history in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, when it steps on the court to face North Carolina State: Never before have the two teams played one another.

The circumstances in which they will compete will make history also.

The Illini and Wolfpack will represent not only their universities but also their conference in the inaugural women’s basketball Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“This will probably be our toughest test of the year,” junior guard Lori Bjork said.

The Illini (5-1) will enter Raleigh on a high note after last Sunday’s victory over Providence in the championship game at the FIU Thanksgiving Classic.

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This week in practice head coach Jolette Law and her staff laced up their gym shoes and took on a more physically strenuous teaching role in an effort to help correct problem areas. Law said her guards like to stand up while dribbling the ball, which makes them more vulnerable to steals.

She also said that in Thursday’s game her guards must stay low and create space between themselves and the defenders.

Up to this point the Illini’s standout star has been sophomore forward Jenna Smith. She is averaging 11.5 rebounds a game and 21.3 points.

“The big thing for us is to keep throwing it down low to Jenna Smith,” Bjork said. “We just got to get her going every game and remember what has got us to 5-1 – that is pounding it into the post.”

Smith will have her hands full Thursday as she faces one of the premier forwards in the ACC. N.C. State senior Khadijah Whittington was named third-team All-ACC last year as she finished the season with an average of 10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

This year Whittington has improved, averaging 13.4 rebounds and 19.9 points per game.

Recently, Whittington was named Tournament MVP at the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, a tournament N.C. State won.

“I expect an intense game,” Smith said. “I know that they are going to be very athletic and very driven just like us, so it’s going to come down to who wants it more.”

On paper, N.C. State (6-1) can be considered a very young team with only one senior and six freshmen on its roster of 13 players.

The Wolfpack are led by legendary head coach Kay Yow. She has been at N.C. State for 33 years and recruited Law during her collegiate career.

“I have the utmost respect for Yow,” said Law, adding that she recruited some of the players that are currently on N.C. State while she was at Rutgers.

Despite Law’s admiration for Yow, her demeanor toward the game has not changed, and she said she still expects an even better effort from her team than in weeks past.

“I want 40 intense minutes,” Law said. “When I say 40 I mean 2,400 seconds.”