Simpson leads Illini to first Big Ten win

Simpson leads Illini to first Big Ten win

By Bret Greenberg

With Illinois trailing 28-24 in the second half against Big Ten-leading Indiana, freshman Fabiola Josil brought the ball upcourt as junior Lacey Simpson set a screen in the low post. As soon as Josil took a couple steps past half court, she was pick-pocketed by the Hoosiers’ point guard, who took off in the opposite direction for what seemed like an uncontested layup.

But Simpson was not going to allow it.

The 6-foot-1 forward sprinted the length of the court, taking off slightly before she reached the hoop and swatted the ball out of bounds – one of her four blocks that afternoon.

“I was kind of upset because I don’t like people picking my point guards,” Simpson said. “It’s always so much pressure on them. I know I probably shouldn’t have sprinted back because I was in foul trouble but I had it in my head that I was going to get that block. I knew I was going to get it. I was determined.”

Her play ignited a 9-2 run that put the Hoosiers back on their heels. The inspired Illini held on, beating Indiana 61-52 on Sunday for their first conference win.

But Simpson’s defensive prowess isn’t limited to blocked shots. Currently she leads the Big Ten in steals with 64.

Nothing Simpson does surprises her head coach, Jolette Law, anymore.

“Lacey Simpson is probably the most gifted athlete that I know,” Law said. “She’s a blessing to have. I’m just grateful I have her on my side.”

Though Simpson is listed as a forward, Law said it doesn’t matter what position she plays because she will find a way to produce.

“Lacey is ‘Miss Utility,'” Law said. “Whatever the team needs, she steps up. She can play all five positions. She can play on the perimeter, shoot the ball, handle the ball, she can make great passes and she can play in the post. I just wish I could keep her in the game for 40 minutes.”

In Illinois’ two games last week, Simpson was held to 27 minutes and 35 minutes because of foul trouble. In those two games combined, Simpson registered 12 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, four blocks and six steals.

After 21 games, she is averaging a little over three fouls per contest. This leads to many tough decisions for Law who is working with only nine players this season.

But the Zion, Ill., native acknowledges the problem and knows she has to change her ways to help the team reach the next level.

“I just have to be smarter, especially in the first half,” Simpson said. “That’s one of my problems. I’m so energetic, and I’m so ready to get on the run and I don’t think.”

With Coach Law telling each of her players to fulfill their roles on the team, Simpson was searching for the words to describe her role on the defensive end. Because senior Chelsea Gordon already carries the title of “shut down defender,” Simpson said she will settle for “shut down help defender.”

“A lot of my steals come from the help side,” Simpson said. “Chelsea makes it so you can’t catch the ball. She’s always going to guard the best player on the other team.”

Honorable Mentions

Demetri McCamey – men’s basketball

Had 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds to lead the Illini to a win against Wisconsin for the first time in six tries.

He also added 13 points and seven assists in a victory against Ohio State.

Andrew Riley – men’s track and field

The freshman from Jamaica won the high jump with a leap of 6-6 3/4 and set a personal record by running the 60-meter hurdles in 8.08 seconds at the Carle/Health Alliance Invitational at the UI Armory.