Jenna Smith leads women in victory



By Wesley Deberry

CHICAGO – A lost eye contact may have been Chicago State’s best defense for Illini forward Danyel Crutcher.

In just her second start of the season, Crutcher was forced to come out of the game in the opening minutes. With 20-20 vision Crutcher returned to the game shooting 9-10 from the field scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds in the first half. The Illini went on to defeat Chicago State 73-46 at the United Center in the late game of the Lexus “December to Remember” Classic.

Crutcher finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“She’s earned it,” said Illini head coach Jolette Law about her decision to start Crutcher. “I am not one to go off stats from the past or go off what your potential may be. It’s the effort you give every day in practice.”

Illini center Jenna Smith scored 16 of her 24 points in the second half and finished with eight rebounds. Forward Lacey Simpson helped the Illini on defense with four steals, and despite scoring 10 points she played unselfishly on offense, leading Illinois with 12 assists.

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Law said she told her team earlier in the week “whoever we are playing you have got to train like your playing for a national championship that day.”

But in the early minutes of Saturday’s game Law said she was uneasy about the performance of her team. The Illini found themselves down 10-6 after a three-point shot by Chicago State guard Zondranika Williams. In Saturday’s game, Williams was Chicago State’s biggest offensive and defensive threat as she lead her team with 16 points and tied fellow team member Sarah Black with four steals.

“Once we got the press going and got moving,” Law said, “our adrenaline started flowing, and we got some easy shots.”

The Illini were firmly in control at the conclusion of the first half leading 38-23.

Law used the Illini lead to give more of her bench players into the game. She said her bench contribution will be important to the continued success of the Illini through the Big Ten schedule.

“Going down the stretch it’s not just going to be five (starters),” Law said. “I have got a starting lineup of about eight.”

Despite the Illini’s lopsided victory Saturday, Law said the Illini must continue to improve on rebounding, limiting turnovers and offensive execution before the start of the Big Ten Conference schedule.

In Saturday’s game the Illini outrebounded Chicago State 46-27. This was an above-average day for the Illini, as they have averaged 33.9 rebounds per game, and their opponents have averaged 28.9. The 13 turnovers the Illini had was also better than usual.

On the season the Illini average 18.6 turnovers a game.

“We are improving every game,” Illini forward Lacey Simpson said.

Improvement through hard work in the gym will not be a part of the Illini’s schedule for the next few days as they will have 11 days off to tend to finals.

“They’re students, and they’re athletes second,” Law said. “I know how it is right now. We have just been going, going, going.”

The Illini will return to the court on Dec. 19 as they travel to Columbia, Mo., to face the Missouri Tigers. It will be the Illini’s final game before the start of the Big Ten Conference schedule.

“Were just trying to finish 8-3,” Simpson said. “Like coach said, no more losses before the Big Tens.”