Illini learn to push past tough defense

 

 

By Bret Greenberg

Illinois’ 65-55 defeat of Big 12 foe Missouri on Wednesday was not exactly how the Tigers’ head coach Cindy Stein imagined the return to her alma mater.

“It’s not so fun,” Stein said. “I love Champaign because I grew up here and all, but at the same time, I want a win a whole lot more than a warm homecoming.”

Stein played basketball for the Illini from 1981-83, after playing two years at Illinois Central College. In her years wearing the orange and blue she recorded 323 assists, which ranks sixth on Illinois’ career assists list. Stein also returned to the Illini as an assistant coach from 1993-95.

History aside, she still struggled to find the media room after Wednesday’s game.

“I think Illinois has enough money to have a media room a little closer to the locker room,” Stein said. “That would be nice. You guys need to get on that.”

Hack-a-Jenna

During most of Wednesday’s game junior center Jenna Smith saw single defenders, with help sagging in when she caught the ball down on the block. But a majority of her post touches were followed by a shove or an elbow.

“Their posts were very aggressive bumping and pushing me off the block,” Smith said. “It was a strength battle, but Lacey (Simpson) and the rest of my teammates took care of that with their outside shooting.”

The referees seemed to agree too, calling 19 fouls on the Tigers compared to 11 on the Illini. Two Mizzou players in charge of containing Smith, Jessra Johnson and Kendra Frazier, fouled out of the contest in 19 and 12 minutes, respectively.

Stein pegged the foul discrepancy on the circumstances of the inter-conference game, saying her players had to adjust to the tighter refereeing in the Big Ten.

Speak softly and carry a deadly jump shot

Freshman Macie Blinn may not scream “help” on defense loud enough for her teammates to hear, but her offensive game came through against Mizzou.

After hitting each of her two three pointers, a simple fist pump was all she needed to signify she was happy about her performance. She finished the game with 14 points in 29 minutes – her first time in double digits this season.

“Normally, she’ll pass up shots, but tonight when it came her way she shot it and knocked it down,” Simpson said. “As the game progressed, she hit more shots and got much more confident.”

This was exactly the confidence head coach Jolette Law was looking for after senior Chelsea Gordon went down with an ankle injury early in the second half. Gordon did not return to the game.

“I think she was a little pushed, and when she came down it was on someone’s foot,” Law said of Gordon.

“She’s fine, but I just wanted to make sure she would be ready for the next game.”

With a game against Temple (1-1) on Sunday at Assembly Hall, Blinn may see extended minutes if Gordon isn’t 100 percent.

“Each game I want my new players to carry over (what they’ve learned),” Law said.

“With Macie, we want her to see that we need you to score, we need you to be confident and we need you to shoot. Each and every day we are going to work on the little things and continue to get better.”