Familiar storyline plagues Illini women in loss to Badgers

By Anthony Zilis

It was the first game of a new year, but the story for the Illinois women’s basketball team remained the same Thursday evening.

Inconsistency has followed the Illini all season and a reliance on only a few offensive weapons plagued the team in Thursday night’s 53-38 loss to Wisconsin.

“I know our team, some days we just don’t understand if we’re all going to come together and play or if we’re just not going to talk and have each other’s back,” junior center Jenna Smith said.

Smith accounted for over half of her team’s points with 21 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Smith was a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line and, before two made free throws by Lana Rukavina with 7:57 remaining, was the only Illini to get to the line.

Smith and fellow junior Lacey Simpson attempted 26 of the Illini’s 49 field goals opportunities.

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“(Smith) is one of the best post players in the country, she really and truly is, we just didn’t want to have anybody else beat us,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said.

Take Smith and Simpson out of the equation and the Illini shot 3-for-23 for just nine points.

“There were opportunities, we just didn’t push the ball up the floor,” Illini head coach Jolette Law said. “I think we settled, in the first half, for threes.”

Stone knows a thing or two about unbalanced offensive production. Last season, seniors Jolene Anderson and Janese Banks accounted for 33 points a game and almost half of their team’s field goal attempts.

This season, the Badgers have been forced to transform into a more balanced team, and it has paid off. Led by guard Alyssa Karel, who scored 13 points Thursday, the Badgers (2-1, 12-2) have become one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten.

Against Illinois, Wisconsin was able to spread its scoring out among eight players, which only magnified the Illini’s deficiencies.

Just a few weeks ago, the Illini played No. 2 North Carolina to the finish and last Sunday looked like the better team for the most of their loss to Penn State.

Another puzzling storyline for the team is its struggling outside shooting, which was supposed to be improved from last season with the arrivals of Macie Blinn and Fabiola Josil.

But for a player who shot 40 percent from beyond the arc her junior year of high school, Blinn hasn’t shown that shooting ability this year. Through fourteen games, the junior has shot only 32 percent from the same 19-foot, 9-inch line.

“Bottom line – the shots are there,” Law said. “I just think that you need to be confident stepping into those shots and knocking them down.”

Even with her team mired in a streak in which it has lost 10 of 11, Law remained confident.

“I know that this team has all the potential to be great,” Law said. “Tonight we just didn’t do the things that we should’ve done.”