Hoosiers again no match for Simpson, Illini women

By Bret Greenberg

On Jan. 25, then-No. 1 Big Ten powerhouse Indiana came into Champaign only to be upset by the last-place Illini. Sunday afternoon, Illinois proved their early win wasn’t a fluke, handing the Hoosiers a 66-59 loss on their home floor.

The Illini came out firing, using the in-and-out game to get open shots for their perimeter players. Junior Jenna Smith saw agressive double teams in the post but was able to find freshman Macie Blinn open beyond the arc. Blinn led all scorers in the first half with nine points.

“My shot wasn’t falling early so I just tried to be more aggressive in taking it to the basket,” Smith said. “When they collapsed on me defensively, I tried to find my teammates because they were knocking down shots all day.”

Freshman Fabiola Josil made her presence felt as well for the Illini, with four quick points. Her aggressiveness made the defense honor her dribble drive, which took some pressure off other Illinois scorers.

Defensively, both squads were getting in the passing lanes for deflections, but Illinois took better care of the basketball in the first half, turning the ball over seven times compared to 11 for the Hoosiers.

Indiana applied some full-court pressure to the Illini’s backcourt players which momentarily took them out of a rhythm. But as soon as they settled down, the Illini were able to break the pressure and set up their motion offense.

The second half brought more fluidity for the Orange and Blue, who seemed to finally be clicking as a unit.

Smith frustrated Indiana in the post, but her bread and butter came at the free throw stripe, where she knocked down 13-of-16. Smith even stepped up to the line to shoot the team’s technical free throws after Indiana head coach Felisha Legette-Jack screamed at a referee as she ran down the court after what she believed was a non-call under the Illinois basket. Smith finished with 21 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

Smith battled with Indiana’s senior forward Whitney Thomas for most of the game. Thomas fouled out of the contest with about three minutes to go. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds – eclipsing the 1,000 rebound mark of her career.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Illinois in the second half. The Hoosiers clamped down defensively midway through the half, taking the lead at 36-35. But after multiple lead changes, head coach Jolette Law made some adjustments to bring home the victory.

“When they took the lead in the second half, I told my team to dig deep defensively and let the defense create the offense,” Law said. “Whitney Toone and Lacey Simpson got a couple big steals down the stretch that led to points and put us in a position to win.”

Simpson recorded 16 points, 14 rebounds and three steals in the win.

The Illini face Northwestern on Thursday at the Assembly Hall in a rematch of their 45-44 battle on Jan. 29, in Evanston, Ill.

“I think we’re playing more as a team and that has made a big difference,” Simpson said. “We’ll try to keep the momentum going Thursday against Northwestern.”