Owls escape Assembly Hall with rout of Illini women

By Anthony Zilis

The Illini women’s basketball team had recovered from first half deficits in each of their first three home games, so it was no worry when the Illini were down 29-23 to Temple going into the second half on Sunday evening at the Assembly Hall.

But little did the Illini know that coming out of the tunnel after the break was the beginning of the end, as the Owls slammed the door on their way to a 66-47 win.

“I think our intensity dropped, I think when we went into halftime we felt defeated already, like we couldn’t hang with Temple,” said a dejected Jenna Smith. “We didn’t come together as a team, we didn’t talk, we just didn’t have that fire to come back, and that’s what killed us right from the beginning.”

Temple came out of the half with an 11-2 run in the first 2:30, and the Illini never cut the lead to less than 12 for the rest of the game.

The Temple defensive strategy was a familiar one to the Illini this season, who have relied on their two big juniors to take on most of the load.

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“Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson are really good post players who have done most of their scoring, and if Illinois was going to win this game we wanted to make sure that those two didn’t have much to do with it so we were giving them jump shots,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said.

The Owl defense was effective, to say the least, as Smith shot 7-21 with 17 points and Simpson shot 2-10 with only five points. The Illini were forced to take 18 three-pointers and only made five.

“I figure every team in the country is going to get the Eastern Illinois tape, they dared us to beat them from the outside,” Illini coach Jolette Law said. “The gameplan was to attack, and I just think we started settling for 3-point shots.”

The Illini suffered poor games from their shooters, as starting freshmen guards Macie Blinn, Lydia McCully and Fabiola Josil shot a combined 2-10 from beyond the arc as senior shooting guard Chelsea Gordon watched from the bench with a sprained ankle.

Opponents’ gameplans figure to remain the same until the Illini can hit jumpers, but Smith is more worried about her team’s attitude.

“You never lose by 20 on your home court, and when we just bow down to them, basically, and just let them do what they wanted . it’s just disrespectful,” Smith said. “That’s the worst feeling in the world, to know that you lose on your home court, where you’re never supposed to lose, you’re supposed to show pride, show why you wear Illinois, why you came to this school, so it just hurt.”