Deja Vu for Illini women’s basketball after day one win against Penn State

INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday, the ninth-seeded Illini were the only team at Conseco Fieldhouse to upset their opponent in the first round of the 2009 Big Ten Tournament – duplicating their first round results from a year ago.

With two seconds left on the shot clock and the Illini up by three early in…INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday, the ninth-seeded Illini were the only team at Conseco Fieldhouse to upset their opponent in the first round of the 2009 Big Ten Tournament – duplicating their first round results from a year ago.

With two seconds left on the shot clock and the Illini up by three early in the second half, junior Lacey Simpson spun toward the baseline and put up a desperate heave from behind the backboard. When it went through the net, Simpson knew Illinois’ 58-49 victory against Penn State was meant to be.

“When you hit shots like that, you have to win games,” Simpson said. “I just tried a little move. I heard coach yelling, ‘Shoot it, shoot it,’ so I just hurried up and threw it up there.”

After losing to Penn State twice during the regular season, including at home on Senior Day, it seemed like Illinois finally found the right formula for victory.

Simpson, along with junior All-Big Ten selection Jenna Smith, were too much for the Lady Lions, putting up a combined 43 points.

The Illini’s offense ran smoothly throughout the game, frequently finding Smith in the seams of Penn State’s defense.

Penn State head coach Coquese Washington felt the duo’s performance doomed the Lady Lions on both ends of the court.

“Lacey Simpson and Jenna Smith pretty much had their way,” Washington said.

“We allowed them to get their confidence (and) a rhythm. I thought (Illinois) out-hustled us and out-toughed us and kind of put us back on our heels, especially in the second half.”

Although Simpson and Smith’s statistics stood out to the Illini fans in attendance, head coach Jolette Law liked what she saw out of junior college transfer Whitney Toone.

Toone crashed the offensive boards for Illinois and found herself hitting the deck throughout the game while scrapping for loose balls.

After coming off the bench in the first half, she played for most of the game, registering 36 minutes.

In her first 25 games in an Illini uniform, Toone averaged 8.5 minutes.

But in the last two games, Toone has been on the floor for almost 35 minutes per contest.

After the game, Smith wasn’t too surprised Toone got the nod.

“I love Whitney’s game. In practice she elevates over everybody,” Smith said.

“She gets the rebounds nobody expects anybody to get. She’s always aggressive for offensive boards. That’s her bread and butter.”

With round one under their belts, the Illini have just one night to rest and mentally prepare for No. 1 seed Ohio State on Friday.

After losing to the Buckeyes twice this season by an average of nearly 25 points, Illinois sees Ohio Sate as just another stepping stone to its goal of a Big Ten title.

“A lot of people are counting us out, but they’ve got another thing coming because we’re going to come in and compete,” guard Fabiola Josil said.

“Next game, if we play like a team, then we can definitely beat Ohio State.”