Illini extinguish UIC Flames


Lori Bjork rebounds the ball against two Illinois-Chicago players on Sunday at Assembly Hall. Illinois won 69-57. Erica Magda

By Wesley Deberry

Like an expert marksman, she can hurt any team from far away and at anytime. Illini junior guard Chelsea Gordon did not score during the first half of the game against the UIC Flames on Sunday. Instead she recorded two personal fouls, and turned the ball over once.

In the second half, though, Gordon stepped up. She made three-of-four three-pointers and shot five-of-seven from the field as the Illini went on to defeat the Flames 69-57.

“Coach just kept telling me, that is your job to keep shooting,” Gordon said. “So it just fed off of her positive feedback.”

Head coach Jolette Law said her team has yet to play a full 40-minute game without letting up on defense. She characterized Sunday’s game as a 28-minute game from the Illini.

“We are a work in progress,” Law said. “We will continue to work to get it to a 40-minute game.”

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She also said the Illini played more “reaction defense then reactive defense” and did not act as defensive dictators as Law preaches to her players.

In the first half, the Illini could have not asked for a better start. Before the opening tipoff the Illini found themselves already ahead by two points after an administrative technical foul. A UIC misprint in the official scorebook was the cause for the technical: UIC junior forward Ashley Hluska was listed as wearing number 34 but actually was wearing number 35.

Bjork made the opening free throws for the Illini and the team wasted no time capitalizing on the early momentum. It jumped out to an early 10-4 lead in the opening five minutes of the game. For the Flames, 10 minutes passed in the first half before they reached double digits in scoring. The Illini managed to hold UIC to a 32 percent field goal shooting in the first half.

Law said she was happy with the way that the Illini were able to work the clock on defense, while staying low to the ground and moving their hands.

“When we do that and the way we know we are capable of playing, it brings a big smile to my face,” Law said.

UIC sophomore guard Jessica Miller scored 13 of UIC’s 23 points in the first half and finished with 18 points. The 12 turnovers seemed to be the Achilles heel of the Flames in the first half.

Senior Rebecca Harris led the Illini in scoring during the first half with 10 points off the bench, but did not score in the second half.

“I definitely wanted to use the bench today,” Law said. “We kept letting UIC make runs, so I had to keep bringing my starters back in so that we could pull away.”

Senior center Audrey Tabon lead the Illini in rebounds during the first half with six.

Law required the services of Tabon more than usual in Sunday’s game. On average Tabon has averaged 8.3 minutes a game for the Illini. In the first half alone Tabon played 12 minutes.

Illini leader Jenna Smith was relatively quiet during the first half, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds, but managed a reverse layup to end the first half. Her shot sent the Illini into the locker room with momentum and a 34-23 lead over UIC.

Smith said her last-minute shot made the Illini push each other to play better defense in the second half.

At the conclusion of the game Smith quietly had another double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. She also led the Illini in assists with four.

The Illini will return to Assembly Hall on Wednesday at 8 p.m. to face No. 9 Oklahoma. The highly anticipated matchup of premier Illini post player Smith and Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris will take center stage.

“I will put Smith against any post player in the country,” Law said. “Courtney Paris is just another day at the office.”