After win against IU, Illini look for 8-0 run

After win against IU, Illini look for 8-0 run

By Anthony Zilis

After beating then-first place Indiana on Sunday to snap a 10-game losing streak, the Illinois women’s basketball team finally has a signature win.

No longer do the Illini have to look back at a moral victory in a loss to then-No. 2 North Carolina or close games against Minnesota and Penn State for proof of how good they can actually be.

And no longer do they have to do their own laundry.

Head coach Jolette Law, who stripped the Illini of their practice clothes early in the season because of a lack of effort, rewarded her players for Sunday’s win by giving them back their Illini gear.

“Prior to that Indiana game, with some of the clothes I would see, I was, like, please ladies, just get a win,” Law said. “I didn’t want to just give them back; I wanted them to play with that sense of pride. I think they get it now.”

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For Law and the Illini, getting the clothes back signifies much more than ridding themselves of the cumbersome chore of laundry. It signifies a team that has some respect back and maybe even a newfound swagger.

But turning that respect into a winning streak will be a tall order. Out of its eight remaining games, Illinois has only three left against teams with losing records in Big Ten play, one of which comes Thursday against Northwestern. But don’t tell Lacey Simpson that winning out is a far-fetched goal.

“We definitely have an opportunity to go on this – what is it, eight more games?” Simpson asked. “In my head I’m thinking ‘8-0 run.'”

If anybody is capable of rerouting a season on the brink of disaster, Simpson and her Illini teammates may meet the qualifications.

Last season Illinois started the Big Ten slate 3-6 but used a win against then-No. 19 Ohio State to propel itself to eight wins in its next 12 games, culminating in a narrow loss in the Big Ten Tournament championship.

Sunday was undoubtedly the jump start the Illini needed to build a run similar to last season’s. But team members and coaches alike insist a winning atmosphere has been building for weeks.

“It’s been more positive and everybody’s been more competitive,” Jenna Smith said after Sunday’s win. “We’re tired of talking about the little things that we don’t do – we don’t play with a sense of urgency or somebody always comes out with better energy.

“It was time for us to be, like, ‘We came out with the better energy, we were the aggressor, we did the little things, we played together and got a win,'” she added, her voice at an ever-rising crescendo.

If the Illini come out as the aggressor on Thursday night in Evanston, Ill., they have a very real shot at their first consecutive wins since they began the season with three straight victories.

Illinois is riding a 17-game winning streak against the Wildcats but will have to contend with 6-foot-5 center Amy Jaeschke and 5-foot-11 guard Kristin Cartwright. These former AAU teammates of Simpson combine to average 25.1 points per game for Northwestern, which has lost five straight.

But finally having built some momentum, the Illini are confident going into the season’s final stretch of the season.

“We fell down early, but we’ve learned and we’ve grown and we’ve matured,” Law said. “If we can beat the number-one team in the league, who else should you fear.”