Women’s basketball looks to regain swagger against Penn State


The Daily Illini File Photo

Center Jenna Smith (13) attempts a shot during the game against Michigan State at Assembly Hall on Feb. 5.

By Anthony Zilis

After winning four out of five games, the Illinois women’s basketball team seemed as if it had taken a few steps forward.

But Sunday’s lackluster loss at Purdue was a step back for a team that, at 4-11 in conference, needs every bit of momentum it can get heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

Jenna Smith assured reporters that Sunday’s game against Penn State at the Assembly Hall will be different.

“When we played at Purdue, it wasn’t us,” she said. “We were kind of lackadaisical, we weren’t showing the energy that we have shown in the games that we won.”

It’s true that Sunday’s matchup with Purdue didn’t bring out the same type of team that had swept both Northwestern and Indiana in the few weeks prior. But two days off from practice on Monday and Tuesday have Illinois energized and refocused.

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The young Illini had seemed to build up a high level of confidence, but it was absent against Purdue.

In their final home game Sunday, they’ll try to bring back the team that played sound offense and opened up the paint for Jenna Smith inside.

“We’ve talked about the guards taking the open shots,” forward Lacey Simpson said. “You’ve got to take it. I’ve got you on the rebound, I tell them that all the time.”

Illinois will have to rediscover that swagger Sunday to contain the second leading scorer in the conference, the Nittany Lions’ Tyra Grant.

“Tyra’s the scorer on their team, she’s versatile. She’ll shoot outside, she’ll get in the lane,” Smith said of Grant, who she labeled Penn State’s “emotional leader.”

The junior guard burned the Illini with 21 points in the teams’ first matchup – a game that the Illini were leading in the final minutes before losing 54-51.

The Illini are fighting with Penn State for Big Ten Tournament seeding, and they know how important the conference tournament can be after last season’s championship-game run.

“Every game that we get here at home, we need to get,” head coach Jolette Law said. “Our last home game, Senior Night, I think that’ll bring out a lot of energy and effort for this game.”

Simpson and her teammates may be the only ones who believe they can win their final three games and make a run in the tournament.

“Around this time last year people didn’t think we could go that far, and I think we can do it again,” she said. “Win these three games, go into the tournament and make history again.”