Law on Blinn: Glimpses of greatness

Law on Blinn: Glimpses of greatness

By Anthony Zilis

The defining moment of Macie Blinn’s freshman season might have been a 3-pointer, followed by her signature fist pump, on national television against Minnesota. Or it might have been a no-look pass in the Illinois women’s basketball team’s first Big Ten win against Indiana.

It also might have been a missed defensive assignment during the team’s 10-game losing streak. Or it might have been the game at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, when she sat on the bench for the first 17 minutes of the game.

Or it might just be a collection of all of these moments.

In a season that has been as infuriating as it has been encouraging, Blinn has shown flashes of greatness, but a set of bad games proves she still has a lot to learn about the college game.

“Every day I talk to Macie, it’s just about being consistent, consistent, consistent,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. “You’ve already shown glimpses that you can be a great player, just step up and do it. I think she’s been responding to the challenge, and each and every day I’ve been seeing a vast improvement.”

Law has been admittedly tough on the quiet, soft-spoken Blinn, but it’s the desire to have the young sharpshooter reach her full potential that has the second-year coach always wanting more.

After starring at Greenville High School in western Ohio, where she set the school record for points, it took Blinn time to get used to the constant criticism she receives under Law.

“She’s changed my mentality,” Blinn said. “She sees something in you that says you can give a lot more than what you’re showing.”

Blinn struggled early in the season, scoring more than five points just once in her first nine games. Law repeatedly preached that Blinn wasn’t playing the kind of defense she expected out of her players.

After starting five of the team’s first seven games, Blinn came off the bench for the next nine. With her team mired in a stretch in which it lost 16 of 17 games and was desperately in need of a consistent third offensive weapon behind stars Lacey Simpson and Jenna Smith, Law stayed tough on her young guard.

“I’m not doing it to attack Macie Blinn, the person,” Law said. “I’m used to being at a high level, and if I’m coaching a kid, I’m going to motivate you to reach your potential.

“I’m not going to come in here and try to be a friend, that’s not my job.”

Blinn took the criticism in stride. On Jan. 3 against Minnesota, a game televised on CBS, she finally showed the potential that made high school coach Tom Rettig call her “one of the best players I’ve ever coached, boy or girl.”

Lighting up the Gophers for 16 points, Blinn made hard cuts to the basket and hit jump shots that made her look like a seasoned veteran rather than the inconsistent freshman she was early in the season.

“I don’t think she can be a good player, I think she can be a great player,” Law said after the game. “If she can continue to play that way all the time, you will hear a lot more about Macie Blinn.”

The team’s next game against Michigan brought more solid play from Blinn, as she scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting and earned back her spot in the starting lineup.

But inconsistency soon crept back into Blinn’s game.

She scored only seven total points on 3-of-14 shooting in two games against Ohio State and Iowa, suggesting she wasn’t ready to be that third option her team needed so badly.

The poor play left her out of the starting lineup in the next game against Wisconsin on Jan. 18. She played only six minutes and didn’t score in the loss.

“It’s the defense that I’m looking at with Macie,” Law said after the game. “It’s obvious that she may score, but the last three games she’s been in sort of a slump. When she scores, I look more … at what she’s giving up on the defensive end.”

But hard work and focus in practice convinced Law to give Blinn another chance.

Back in the starting lineup against Indiana, Blinn dazzled fans with no-look passes and lights-out shooting on her way to 12 points while playing all 40 minutes. The game may finally have brought the level of consistency that Law’s been looking for since the beginning of the season.

Blinn has averaged 10 points and 37 minutes as the Illini have won three of their last four games. With senior guard Chelsea Gordon out for the season with a torn ACL, Blinn has solidified a spot in the starting lineup.

Law believes her freshman will continue her solid play, though she has expected it all along.

“When Macie’s making a no-look pass or making a shot and clenching her fist, I’m not surprised, I see it in practice,” Law said. “I know what she’s capable of.”

But Blinn knows she has to do more than create flashy plays on offense to keep her coach’s respect and take her game to the next level.

“If I don’t play good defense in practice, I don’t think I’m going to get the chance,” Blinn said. “I think Coach Law sees a lot in me … I think I can become a really good defensive player just by listening and watching film and just doing the little things.”

Where has she Blinn?

After an up-and-down start to her freshman season, Macie Blinn has stepped up her game of late . Here’s a look at her performance in the Illini’s last eight games.

Jan. 12 – Jan. 22

Points per game: 2.8

Minutes per game: 19.3

Field goal percentage: 18.2

Illinois’ record: 0-4

Jan. 25 – Feb. 8

Points per game: 10

Minutes per game: 36.8

Field goal percentage: 41.7

Illinois’ record: 3-1