Women’s basketball hopes to fulfill potential



Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Lacey Simpson passes to a teammate at the women’s basketball game against Bradley that was held in The United Center in Chicago on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008.

By Anthony Zilis

One glance at the Illinois women’s basketball team reveals a losing team struggling to find an identity.

The Illini are 4-13, mired in a seven-game losing streak and have lost 12 of 13. They are also coming off their worst offensive performance since 1972, in terms of points scored, with a 67-35 loss to Ohio State.

Illinois has relied much of this season on only two players – star juniors Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson. Both rank in the top five in the Big Ten in minutes per game and account for over half of the Illini’s scoring and about half of their rebounding.

“Jenna Smith’s a great player; Lacey Simpson is one of the toughest matchups we’ve faced all year,” Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said after her team’s game against the Illini.

But, as the Illini know, it takes five players to make a basketball lineup, and they’ve struggled to find more than those two scoring options.

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It might be easy for the Illinois to throw in the towel and chalk up a losing season, but the young team isn’t waving any white flags.

With two-thirds of the team being newcomers, five of them freshman, the Illini hardly could have expected to come roaring out of the gates this season.

Although her Wisconsin team pummeled the Illinois 53-38 in a game that wasn’t even that close, Stone only had good things to say about the Illini’s lineup.

“Illinois is a great team; they really are,” Stone said.

“I like their new guards; I like (Macie) Blinn; I think she’s a good shooter. (Fabiola Josil) and (Lydia McCully) give them great athleticism on the perimeter. I like their group of players, I really do.”

Speaking about her young teammates’ early struggles before her team played Minnesota on Jan. 3, senior Chelsea Gordon spoke prophetically.

“I think that they’re doing fine and that in due time, their shots will start to fall,” she said.

Blinn burst on to the scene with 16 points the next day against the Gophers.

She has averaged 10 points in her last three games on 50 percent shooting, emerging as an important scoring threat for the Illini.

Gordon, the team’s only senior, believes improvement will come with experience for her young teammates.

“In high school, you’re the star. You don’t have to work too hard, you don’t have to remember plays,” Gordon said. “It can be overwhelming with the transition, so I think that’s all it is.”

Still looking for its first Big Ten win at 0-6 in conference play, Illinois has some major work to do if it wants to mirror last season’s Big Ten Tournament run for a chance to make the NCAA tournament.

They’ve shown potential, specifically against then-No. 2 North Carolina.

The Illini led the Tar Heels late in the second half but eventually succumbed to the national powerhouse.

Coach Jolette Law thinks that if her team channels this potential, it can reach heights that may seem out of reach to her players.

“I feel that my team has the potential to be a Final Four team,” Law said. “I do believe that wholeheartedly … I know we’re going through a process right now, but we’ll get there.”