Illini fall prey to Wolfpack after poor half

By Stuart Lieberman

In the first ever Big Ten/ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge, the Illini were unable to contain last week’s ACC Player of the Week Khadijah Whittington and the rest of the North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-1) on Thursday, falling 61-47.

The Illini’s play greatly improved as the game went on, but it was not enough to overcome the Wolfpack’s 12-point lead they brought into the second half.

“I was happy with the intensity we played with in the second half,” head coach Jolette Law said. “I told the girls after the game that if we’d play like that for all 40 minutes it’s a different ballgame.”

Whittington dominated the basket as she led her team to victory, playing all 40 minutes and recording a double-double. The Wolfpack’s senior forward finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

“I recruited Whittington when I was at Rutgers so I knew what she could do,” Law said. “She’s a tremendous athlete and she always plays hard. She carried the load again for them tonight.”

Although sophomore forward Jenna Smith had another solid performance to build off her second Big Ten Player of the Week award, leading the Illini (5-2) with 16 points, Law said Smith got frustrated early and fell short of recording her sixth double-double of the season. Smith ended the game with just three boards, falling well short of her season average of 10.3 rebounds per game.

“N.C. State was really physical with (Smith) defensively and took her out of her comfort zone a bit, but I think if we go back and concentrate on what’s made her so successful up to this point we’ll be fine,” Law said.

Senior forward Danyel Crutcher seemed to be the only one to give Smith help on the offensive end. Crutcher came off the bench to go 6-for-11 from the field, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds in 37 minutes of play.

Aside from Smith and Crutcher, nobody else on the Illini finished the game in double figures. The Illini starting lineup combined to score just 26 points.

“At this point in the season we just need to continue to improve,” Law said. “In practice we’ll be working on rebounding, taking care of the ball, execution, you name it.”

The Illini will return to Champaign before hosting Illinois-Chicago on Sunday, where Law said they hope to practice increasing their intensity on every possession.

“We need to learn to treat each possession like it’s our last. We can’t afford to take any possessions off, especially against a team like N.C. State,” she said.