New faces arise on Law’s team



By Anthony Zilis

It came down to the final three seconds in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Championship game. Ninth-seeded Illinois, the lowest seed ever to make the title game, was tied with Purdue 56-56.

Purdue was given the ball after Jenna Smith blocked a shot.

Palms were sweaty and hearts were racing as Purdue’s LaKeisha Freeman caught the inbound pass and shot.

She missed. For a split second, there was a sigh of relief along the Illini bench.

But the ball hit the front of the rim, bounced back to Freeman, who made the shot as time expired, dashing any NCAA Tournament hopes for the Illini.

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With only three faces left from that team, the Illini easily could have brushed off the loss and moved on to the next chapter in their basketball careers.

But juniors Smith and Lacey Simpson, and senior Chelsea Gordon haven’t forgotten.

“It was very tough, but we still talk about it,” Smith said. “I personally watch the game every time I go home … It hurts us, but we just use that as motivation.”

The team won’t let each other lose the memory of that game – the feeling of those few, fleeting seconds.

“Everything we do is off of the three seconds,” redshirt freshman Lydia McCully said. “This is our motivation. We were only three seconds away, just to know that you were that close and you lost it by a hair … so I think this year that’s definitely our motivation and our push.”

This year’s team has a completely different makeup. After that final buzzer many players on the team parted ways. All-Big Ten guard Lori Bjork bolted for Maryland as freshman guard Chelsea Buher also left the team.

Three other key players left due to graduation, and forward Erin McCarthy is out for the season with an injury.

With six new players, one would think the Illini are a less cohesive unit. Not so, McCulley said.

“After everyone left it hit the team kind of hard at first. Then we realized who really wanted to be here, and where the family was.

And now we have that core and as we bring in more people we just get tighter and tighter,” she said. “I think this year’s going to be more positive than last year and I’m excited because we seem like more of a family.”

The team only consists of nine players, which will make playing full court defense problematic.

Law said to expect more three-quarter and half-court presses throughout the season. The lack of depth may also pose a difficulty with Law’s up tempo offensive system, making conditioning all the more important.

“We definitely have to be in top shape,” Simpson said. “This year we just have to come together … believe in each other, push each other.”

With all the new faces it would be easy for the Illini to shift their goals; to call it a rebuilding year. But Smith refuses.

“Our attitude hasn’t changed,” she said. “We still want to go to the NCAA’s, we want to be Big Ten Champs, we still bring it in everyday and say ‘Big Ten Champs,’ so our mentality is the same as last year’s.”

Law sees a different swagger to this young team, a different type of attitude.

Of course, if she ever needs to motivate her team she only has to go back a to those three emotional seconds.

“Our kids now see and they believe in the University of Illinois,” she said. “I think the motivation going into this season is that right now, we’re only a block out away, only three seconds away … We’re just going to use that as motivation and hope that carries over the remainder of the season.”